AUGUSTA — There was no interest from contractors in tackling the conversion of Water Street traffic patterns before the end of this construction season.

The city received no bids from contractors interested in doing upgrades to city sidewalks on Water Street, the first step in the process of converting traffic flow on the downtown section of the street from the current one-way to two-way traffic. That means the controversial project will be put off until at least next spring.

Augusta officials, who said when the proposal was approved there was a chance the work might not be done until early in 2019, attribute the lack of bidders by the deadline earlier this month to the fact contractors are already busy with projects this time of year.

So the city plans to try again in the spring, and bid the project out then as part of a larger, roughly $1.5 million project in the same area that would also include reconstructing Commercial Street. The hope is that contractors will be tempted to take on the work if the tight deadline of completing it this fall is removed, and it’s part of a larger, potentially more lucrative, package of work.

“With fall rapidly approaching, most contractors have scheduled their work through the end of the year,” City Engineer Nick Hartley said in a memo to City Manager William Bridgeo. “By adding the Water Street two-way conversion (to the larger project including Commercial Street) we can get more contractors to bid on the work, reduce costs by reducing mobilizations, and increase efficiency by coordinating with a single contractor. The trade-off is, of course, that all the work for the Water Street two-way conversion would be delayed until 2019.”

Advocates for the change in traffic flow, who said two-way traffic will be good for merchants because traffic coming from the north will no longer be forced to drive around downtown, said they are not concerned about the delay and they were aware the work might not place by fall anyway.

“We’ve got no concerns, we kind of had a feeling,” the work would not take place before winter, said Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance.

“Transitioning in just a 90-day period would have been a lot to do,” he said. “I think having it ready for next spring or summer will be a much smoother transition.

“It’ll give people more time to get ready and give the Public Works Department more time to work on how they’ll do snow removal,” Hall added.

The series of ordinance changes, approved by city councilors in July, technically takes effect 90 days from passage, or mid-October, but the work, Hartley and Bridgeo said, now won’t take place until next year.

“Given that the chances of us actually seeing two-way traffic happen this fall were diminishing for other reasons, this latest development simply finalizes the reality that we will implement two-way traffic as soon as our spring construction season permits,” Bridgeo said.

Hall and Hartley expressed confidence the larger combined package of work will draw bids from contractors in the spring.

Hartley cited an Aug. 13 Kennebec Journal article about road projects in Farmingdale in noting that other area communities are also having a hard time finding contractors.

Changing the flow of traffic on Water Street also requires approval of the state Department of Transportation. That review will include whether the downtown has enough space to accommodate large trucks making turns required to travel in both directions. City officials anticipate the Maine DOT could approve the proposed change by mid-September.

Physical changes needed for the conversion include repaving that section of street to cover the old lane markings, alterations to sidewalks and crosswalks, new striping for the street and parking spaces lining it, and updating traffic signals at the intersection of Bridge and Water streets.

The estimated cost of the project totals $158,200. That includes $30,000 to pave and stripe the roadway, $15,000 to re-stripe parking spaces, $25,000 to modify the Winthrop Street intersection island, $20,000 to install poles and mount lighted “parking ban” signs for use during snow removal operations, $19,500 to modify crosswalks to comply with standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and $5,300 for a topographical survey and report.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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