HOULTON, Maine — The sight of orange construction cones, workers in hard hats, surveying crews and detour signs is not always pleasant for motorists during the busy summer season.
But those signs are welcome in Houlton this year as roads and sidewalks undergo a major overhaul to make the community friendlier to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
Earlier this summer, the town received a $1 million bond to fix its roads and sidewalks. During a special election in March, voters approved a measure to use the bond to fix roads and sidewalks that have decayed over the years. The bond is expected to be paid off over 20 years.
“We are making good progress on our roads and sidewalks,” Town Manager Doug Hazlett said Thursday afternoon. “We have fully completed two roads, and 13 roads are in the process of being repaired. We still have to do some of our gravel roads because there is additional work involved, but we are looking to do it next month.”
Town officials graded the roads on how badly they are damaged so that the worst could be done first.
Major road repair has been a goal of town officials for some time, as residents complained about potholes, cracks and unpaved roads in the community. Residents of Cooks Brook Road came forward in 2006 and asked the town to pave the gravel road.
That will be done, Hazlett said Thursday. The route will be topped with recycled asphalt next month.
The condition of the town’s sidewalks has been discussed for years. The town has approximately 14 miles of sidewalks, many of them cracked and broken. Some streets have sidewalks on only one side, while others have paths that end abruptly.
Some residents have maintained that certain walkways are unsafe, especially for senior citizens and others who are unable to drive or do not have vehicles and must walk to nearby stores for groceries and other items.
Hazlett said work has been completed on nine sidewalks in town, starting with the most dangerous and continuing with footpaths in the busiest places, such as near the schools on South Street. The most significant sidewalk project will be on North Road, where sidewalks will be repaired and new footpaths will be created.
The manager said the town is not sure when that work will begin, as the route is heavily traveled and traffic will be disrupted. Town officials hope to complete the work this year.
The North Street sidewalk project was funded by a $136,000 allocation from the Maine Department of Transportation. The Biennial Capital Work Plan Enhancement funding from the DOT was matched with $34,000 from the town.
Hazlett said new sidewalks would be created from the North Street Plaza to Wal-Mart.
Tanya White, 22, of Bangor, who was shopping in Houlton Thursday afternoon during the end of a visit with family in the area, said she had noticed the road and sidewalk work, particularly along Ludlow Road and Bangor Street. She recalled traveling along Bangor Street several years ago for frequent golfing and swimming outings.
“I remember all of the potholes and ruts out there,” said White. “It is so much better now.”
Her cousin Michele Miller, 23, also of Bangor, agreed.
“You can see the difference,” she said. “The roads are so much smoother.”
Hazlett said more changes are on the way.
“Most of the work will be completed this year, so very few projects will be carried over into next year,” Hazlett said Thursday. “Despite the rain, we are progressing nicely.”