ELLSWORTH, Maine — If drivers of Route 1A from Bangor to Ellsworth think they are inconvenienced now, they should probably settle in and get used to it.
A long-overdue reconstruction project of 6.5 miles of the major road began this summer, but it likely won’t be completed until June 2011, according to Ernie Martin, project manager with the Maine Department of Transportation.
The roadwork is actually two separate projects that are being done simultaneously. The first section, from near Wilson’s Corner to Red Bridge Road, already had been approved under a recent DOT bond package. The second, from Red Bridge Road to Ellsworth Falls, was moved up after the state received federal stimulus money for needed road projects. The total cost of the two pieces is about $18 million.
“There are pros and cons to doing this big a stretch all at once,” Martin said, “but when the money is available, it’s good to get it done.”
So far, crews have torn up small sections of road to improve underground utilities and drainage. In order to widen the road to today’s standards, many trees have been removed from property along that stretch, which means some residents have endured heavy machinery on their front lawns and driveways.
“There have been some complaints; I’m not going to pretend there haven’t been,” Martin said. “But you’re going to get that on any project. It’s always a tough sell when you’re encroaching on people’s property. We understand. These are people’s investments.”
Because Route 1A is a state-owned road, though, the DOT has eminent domain rights to bring the road in line with current standards, particularly when it comes to safety. The 6.5-mile stretch that is under construction will be widened to 12-foot travel lanes with 8-foot shoulders. There now are no discernable shoulders.
In 2004 and 2005, DOT crews completed a similar project on 3.5 miles of Route 1A just north of Ellsworth extending into Dedham. The Route 1A corridor connects Interstate 395 in Brewer to Mount Desert Island and other Down East destinations and is one of the more traveled roads in the area, particularly in summer.
For years, the road has been the site of traffic jams and even serious accidents. Martin said a wider road certainly will help, but he cautioned motorists who might be inclined to drive faster on a newer, wider road.
“Speed is always crucial and people are known to speed on that road,” he said. “But at least enforcers will be able to be out there soon. Right now, there is no place for cars to be pulled over.”
In the last several weeks, DOT crews have shut down sections of one lane at a time along Route 1A. Martin said work will continue through the winter if possible, but the actual road reconstruction won’t begin until next spring. That work is expected to be more extensive than what has been done so far.
“We’re going to do the best we can with traffic control to keep cars moving, but no question there are going to be delays,” the project manager said.