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ELLSWORTH, Maine — Within the next 12 months, state officials expect to begin construction on a new, two-mile section of Route 180, according to Maine Department of Transportation.
The southern end of the state highway, which currently traverses the top of a dam in the Union River at the southern end of Graham Lake, is being moved because of the bridge over the dam, state officials have said. The new portion of the road will extend south on the west side of the Union River and will connect to Route 1A via Vittum Road.
In early 2007, traffic was restricted across the Graham Lake Dam Bridge after a DOT survey showed it was in extremely poor condition. On a scale of zero to 100, with zero being the worst, the bridge scored 28.7, DOT officials have said. A temporary single-lane bridge has spanned the dam since then.
The department considered a realignment that would have used another bridge to cross the Union River at another location. But t he planned route south to Vittum Road, which connects to Route 1A near Boggy Brook Road, eliminates the cost of building and maintaining a new bridge.
Nina Fisher, spokeswoman for DOT, said Monday that moving the road will enable DOT to avoid future maintenance problems associated with the bridge, which sits over a dam the department does not own. Over the long run, she said, it should be easier and less expensive to maintain the new section of road than it would be to maintain the highway’s current route over the dam.
“We don’t always have the option to relocate the road,” Fisher said. “The geography of the area allows it.”
She said DOT plans to advertise the project next June and to begin construction a few months later in September 2012. The expected completion time, barring complications that could delay or slow down the project, is late 2013 or early 2014, she said.
The current projected cost for designing and building the new section of road, Fisher added, is $6.3 million.
“It’s a significant project,” Fisher said.
City officials in Ellsworth have expressed support for building a new section of Route 180 along the west side of the Union River. By rerouting the southern end of the highway, it will draw some traffic away from the current intersection of routes 180, 179 and 1A, which often is congested at certain times of day, city officials have said. It also will provide better access to the city’s industrial park on Vittum Road, and access to land between Vittum Road and Graham Lake.
One of the property owners whose land will be bisected by the new section of road, however, is not enthusiastic about the project.
Old Town resident Kenneth LaFlamme, who with his wife Corda LaFlamme owns 126 acres of land on the western shore of the river just off where Route 180 is now, says the new section of road will go right through his property. The 126-acre parcel is currently maintained as a woodlot, he said Friday, and preserved as wildlife habitat.
“We don’t want any part of it,” LaFlamme said of the highway project.
Many of the abutting landowners, he said, feel the same way.
“They don’t want all that traffic coming through that area,” he said.
William Peasley, who owns 75 acres off Vittum Road, said Friday he supports the project, even though the new section of road will go through his land.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he said.
Peasley said his company, Peasley & O’Halloran Construction, acquired the parcel a few years ago with the idea of building an office. With the new road running through it, he said, it creates other kinds of development opportunities, but he said no decision has been made to pursue any of those options.
Whether or not his company tries to develop the land, he added, the new road will be an improvement over the current configuration for Route 180, which intersects with Route 1A at a sharp angle and still includes the one-lane bridge of alternating traffic over the dam.
“It will be better on the traffic,” Peasley said.