HALLOWELL — Nathan Sennett, 39, looked out his window Monday morning and picked up his telephone to call the Maine Department of Transportation office.

Just south of his business and home at 181 Water St., Sennett could see workers putting down Jersey barriers to mark the lanes of travel on Water Street, but it blocked access to the parking lot of Lucky Garden restaurant.

Monday kicked off the long-awaited Water Street reconstruction project, during which Sargent Corp. is expected to deploy its equipment. Along with the construction comes a new traffic pattern for the hundreds of people who travel in and around this small city just south of Augusta.

As the project now stands, work on the east side of Water Street, which is also U.S. Route 201, is projected to be finished by the end of June. Construction then will be suspended through Old Hallowell Day, July 21. When it resumes, work on the west side of Water Street in downtown is expected to be completed by Oct. 5, with all construction except for surface pavement to be complete by Nov. 16. Paving is scheduled to take place in early June 2019.

To accommodate traffic, vehicles traveling north toward Augusta will remain on on Water Street through downtown Hallowell, which will be reduced to one northbound lane through downtown. Traffic heading south will be routed onto Second Street at Winthrop Street and it will continue south until Temple Street, where it will be diverted back onto U.S. 201.

More than two years of planning did not, however, mean that everyone automatically knew where they should go or what they should do.

“They (workers) also put one across the crosswalk and they had to move it,” Sennett said. “All the verbiage and letters we got said they could not block access to the businesses.”

By mid-morning, the barrier blocks had been shifted, but Annie Huang, who owns Lucky Garden with her husband, was wondering whether she would need to put up an additional “open” sign to let customers know that lunch and dinner still are being served while the project is underway.

“We have that ‘open’ sign,” Huang said, pointing to a lighted sign in the window, but she’s not sure it will be enough.

Just moments later, three customers walked up from where they had parked their car at the boat launch at the south end of Hallowell’s downtown and across Huang’s nearly empty parking lot to see whether the restaurant was open. They said they couldn’t tell from the road whether they could get to the parking lot.

Lucky Garden is across the street from the four-story former mill that now houses the Cotton Mill Apartments, including the one where Jackie Heber lives.

“It’s noisy,” Heber, 85, said. “I’m on the front of the building, so it’s noisy. You have to put your TV up a little louder, but my opinion is if we want it to happen, you’ve got to let it.”

Laurie Bourgeois, manager of the apartments, said he’s provided a map of the detour to his tenants.

“We used to have a four-way stop at Academy and Second streets, and now there’s no sign,” Bourgeois said. “I don’t want them anticipating traffic will stop when it’s not going to.”

The detour and limited access means changes for Hallowell’s public safety services.

City Manager Nate Rudy said Hallowell’s firetrucks, which reside in the station on Second Street, will be moved up to the site of the new fire station off Winthrop Street in Stevens Commons, and the department’s firefighters are being asked to carry their gear with them during the day, so they can respond to emergencies from the new fire station.

“We wanted to get them out of downtown,” Rudy said.

Hallowell Fire Chief James Owens said he had met with both the Maine Department of Transportation and officials from Sargent Corp. last week about the changes to traffic patterns. “They explained to us where the access points are going to be,” on Water Street, Owens said.

That information has also been shared with Augusta Fire and Rescue, which provides ambulance service to the city, and with the city’s automatic aid and mutual aid partners, including Farmingdale, Randolph and Manchester fire departments.

The project also includes work on storm water drainage pipes, and while the street is dug up, Owens said some of the fire hydrants are expected to be taken off line.

“Most of them are not on Water Street, because for every hydrant, you lose a parking spot,” he said. “They are on the side streets.”

Even so, he said, when he’s notified that those hydrants are out of service, there are hydrants on Second Street that can be used.

“They’ll also be cutting off the sprinkler systems in some of the buildings, and that’s also a concern,” he said.

And while he’s been aware of the changed traffic patterns, Owens said he found himself running afoul of the new pattern Monday.

“I even turned the wrong way on a street that used to be two-ways but is now one-way. It caught me off guard, and I knew the plan,” he said. “I am surprised there haven’t been a lot of wrecks.”

Rudy said he hasn’t heard concerns directly from residents, but he’s certain they are contacting their city councilors.

“A lot of it sounds like fear of the unknown,” he said. “People will continue to have concerns based on the reality on the ground. We’ll respond with any good ideas that come along that make the project more amenable to folks.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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