State to solicit public opinion on MDI road rebuilding

Posted Feb. 24, 2011, at 11:36 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 25, 2011, at 8:09 a.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — State highway transportation officials usually focus on safety and traffic volume when they consider whether to make changes to roads, and now they are considering those issues for a 4-mile section of Route 3.

But residents, business owners and municipal officials are keen about how Bar Harbor looks — not just to people who live and work here but to millions of tourists who travel to Mount Desert Island each summer to visit the town’s scenic seaside village and Acadia National Park.

How those priorities might merge is expected to be discussed at a public meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28, at the Bar Harbor Municipal Building on Cottage Street. The purpose of the meeting is to solicit feedback about a draft conceptual plan to rebuild the highway between Ireson Hill near the local village of Salisbury Cove and downtown Bar Harbor.

How best to rebuild roads, as in other places in Maine, can result in differences of opinion on whether roads should be widened, what kind of roadside landscaping should be done and what the road’s overall appearance should be after projects are completed.

Such differences have manifested in previous road improvement projects in Bar Harbor, state and local officials acknowledge. Now that Maine Department of Transportation officials are looking at making improvements to several miles of Route 3 that lead into downtown Bar Harbor, both sides have agreed to try a different planning approach that they hope results in a completed project that both state officials and local residents can support.

Since last summer, a project advisory committee consisting of local and state officials, local business leaders, abutting property owners and representatives of local organizations such as the YMCA, College of the Atlantic and Acadia National Park have been meeting to draft a conceptual plan for what kind of changes the project would entail.

“This approach is different than our standard planning and design work,” Fred Michaud of DOT wrote in a prepared statement about the coming meeting. “Context-sensitive solutions are those that take into account local situations and community opinion upfront while trying to address safety, environmental, historical and scenic concerns.”

The approach is intended to gather local comment through the committee before DOT planners and engineers get involved in sketching out what kind of work will be done, Michaud added. Plans are still in the conceptual stage, he said, so detailed drawings have yet to be drafted.

The “great majority” of work is expected to be done within the existing DOT right of way, most of which is 49 feet wide from one side of the road to the other, according to the statement. Initial recommendations include paved shoulders and in some areas new or improved sidewalks and turnouts for the seasonal Island Explorer bus system. Construction on the project is not expected to begin until 2013 or 2014.

More information, including the draft conceptual plan, is accessible online at the Hancock County Planning Commission website, www.hcpcme.org.

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