HALLOWELL — “The crown is down!”

Mayor Mark Walker was jubilant Friday morning during his remarks at a ceremony to welcome back two-way traffic on Water Street in Hallowell. The process started back in November 2011, when then-Mayor Charlotte Warren wrote the state Department of Transportation to request construction on Water Street, which had been discussed for years.

“This is the culmination … of many, many years of effort,” he said. “We’re taking three to four decades where we knew (the crown) was a problem.”

Traffic was shut down for about a minute about 8:30 a.m. while DOT officials, Down with the Crown Committee members and local government officials took part in a caution tape-cutting to celebrate two-way traffic resuming.

DOT officials said two-way traffic would commence after work ended at 3 p.m. Friday.

The project, which started in April, reduced the crown in the road, something Walker said the city had been hoping would happen for decades. In 2017, Hallowell voters approved a $2.36 million bond package that included $600,000 toward the Water Street reconstruction.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, who represents Hallowell and nine other towns, said many of her constituents believe Hallowell is her “biggest town.” While she represents more populated towns with more land area, she said that assessment is because of Hallowell’s “vibrant downtown.”

“You are a powerhouse and you have endured a challenging summer,” she said during the ceremony. “I know this has been challenging, and you have done it with grace and leadership.”

Nancy Bischoff, a member of the Down with the Crown Committee, lauded the efforts of the DOT and their contractors, the Sargent Corp., during the ceremony. She said DOT project resident Karen Libby became one of the city’s “favorite people.”

“Her door was always open,” Bischoff said. “She moved literally heaven and Earth to make things happen.”

One such thing Libby made happen was a project that decorated the construction fences with murals painted by local residents, businesses and artists. The crews would have to move the murals as many as five times a day during their work, Bischoff said.

“One of the foundations of the entire project has been the true heart of Hallowell,” she said, “which is the arts community.”

Local artists Shelby Dove and Chris Cart presented Sargent and DOT officials with murals to thank them for their work. Walker accepted a mural signed by DOT and Sargent crews, and a painting of the construction done by Bruce Mayo, owner of the Easy Street Lounge.

Walker also thanked the Down with the Crown Committee, which was assigned to promote downtown businesses during the construction.

“I can’t imagine the hours they spent to make this as good as possible,” he said. “Without that, it wouldn’t have been as easy for the businesses.”

However, businesses on Water Street suffered the consequences of on-street parking being halved and one-way traffic through the city’s main street. Don LaChance, who co-owns Boynton’s Market with his wife, Ruth, said in August that he didn’t take a salary this year to reduce strain on the business.

“It’s a sacrifice, but it’s what we have to do to stay open,” he said.

He said markets operate with lower margins than restaurants and bars, which exacerbates the effect of reduced patronage. Jamie Houghton, co-owner of the Liberal Cup, said the construction noticeably affected her lunch services, but dinner services were steady.

Ruth Lachance said Friday morning that Boynton’s cannot get back what was lost during construction, but she was “ecstatic” about normal traffic resuming in Hallowell and bringing more business downtown.

“We don’t expect it to all come back in a week,” she said. “We’re hoping at Christmas we can give (Don) a big bonus.”

About 75 people attended the ceremony, which closed with Walker saying that “no one does it like Hallowell.”

“(DOT) will remember Hallowell. Sargent will remember Hallowell,” he said. “We’re unique, we’re special.”

The detour on Second Street also was removed when two-way traffic resumed on Water Street. Libby said Tuesday that flaggers will be used to assist commuters with the new traffic pattern.

Some paving is left to be done on side streets, but major construction on Water Street is largely done. All construction downtown should be complete on Nov. 16, according to DOT timelines. Water Street is being paved next spring and should be complete by June 6.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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