The total reconstruction of Water Street in Hallowell that is scheduled for this summer is a project that comes along once in every 50 or even 100 years. Commuters, our city businesses, tenants in apartments downtown, pedestrians and bicyclists and others are very concerned about the work being done this summer and how it changes our city and impacts their lives.

But this construction project also is our community’s opportunity to design the street for the next 50 years or more — two generations or more. It will be the visual for downtown for a very long time.

Public meetings have been held over the last five years with all interested parties. Hallowell has a vocal and involved citizenry that is not afraid to speak their minds, participate in the process, and let officials know what they want, and what they don’t. And this road, which is also U.S. Route 202, has a year-round traffic count other business districts would desire.

When you have this many interests, clearly not everybody will get everything that they want. As Doug Rooks wrote in the Feb. 1 newspaper, pedestrians do have certain interests — but so do bicyclists, historical groups, business customers and apartment residents who need parking, and business owners. And as stated above, it’s also a U.S. Route, and using federal funds adds certain restrictions and considerations.

Some of the strongest voices were those interested in preserving the historic look of downtown; for example, we will retain brick sidewalks for that reason. Because Hallowell’s downtown is its own historic district, it needed specific and additional review, adding months of discussions as to an acceptable design. It will continue to look like Hallowell, not a generic city that could be anywhere.

Quirky? Absolutely.

During this design analysis, there was a Section 106 Historical Review, which required National Historic buy-in to the final design. The historic groups, including Hallowell’s Row House and Maine Historic Preservation, joined the discussion and obtained intervenor status. Significant changes in design at this time would require additional review by the national history group along with the local organizations.

The city’s Highway Committee held countless public forums with input from these many diverse perspectives, and the city and Department of Transportation listened.

The Hallowell Board of Trade repeatedly told the city: Do the work as quickly as possible — minimize our harm. Pedestrians wanted a more friendly downtown walking experience. Bicyclists wanted their own bicycle lane. Business owners didn’t want to lose any parking. DOT and many residents discussed safety. Tenants living on Water Street were concerned with construction noises occurring around the clock.

Clearly some of these objectives were in conflict. But all parties did the best they could, and we have a terrific final product.

• We will do it quickly, letting stores get back to normal as soon as possible.

• The project minimizes loss of on-street parking.

• Safety — for drivers, for pedestrians and for bicyclists — will be enhanced.

• It keeps the city’s historic look.

I’m happy to report that after working with DOT, its design and engineering consultants, and our Highway Committee and City Council, the final design is one that we can be proud of. The project will be done in one summer construction season — April through October. It will enhance total safety downtown with several improved features. And it will retain its historic character.

Finally, there will be other opportunities for enhancing the pedestrian experience. The city is in discussions that could create a small downtown park, park benches and a restroom right in the middle of town.

Also, the project’s final construction design will include street lights on both sides of Water Street. Modern curbing will include expanded site distances from intersections that will improve visibility and safety, and create a “cleaner” look (but retain the brick and other historic characteristics).

The multiple public meetings, comment periods, forums and committee workshops with terrific participation from the public, involved parties and diverse interest groups worked with an understanding DOT and created the final construction design. While not perfect in all eyes, I think we will all be proud of it.

Mark Walker is mayor of Hallowell.

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