ELLSWORTH, Maine — A handful of words and symbols have become part of many commuters’ daily lives in Ellsworth: “Grooved pavement.” A stick figure holding a flag. “Road work ahead.”
For about a month, traffic delays and bumpy rides have characterized several main thoroughfares leading into and out of downtown Ellsworth as crews milled and paved stretches of Oak Street, Main Street, Bridge Hill and Surry Road-Route 172.
But Ellsworth residents and commuters from neighboring towns should face relief sometime soon, according to city officials.
Roadwork on Route 172, from Court Street to Ben’s Store on the Surry Road, was completed last week. So was the repaving project on Oak Street. On Monday, crews began repaving the roughly mile-long stretch of Main Street from the Hancock town line to the railroad tracks near High Street.
While the Main Street project is wrapping up, the ongoing work to replace a storm drain on Bridge Hill — a stretch of Main Street just over the Union River Bridge — has hit a bit of a snag as workers from R.F. Jordan and Sons encountered an unpredicted dilemma at the drain site.
“They’ve run into a little problem where they ran into a ledge, right where they’re trying to put the storm drain in,” said Ellsworth’s Highway Foreman, Bernie Hussey, on Monday. “They’re going to have to drill there.”
City Manager Michelle Beal said the remaining work at Bridge Hill and Main Street should be complete by the end of the month. On Monday, the Bridge Hill work zone was opened up to two lanes, preventing the kind of traffic snarls seen at the site in recent weeks.
Farther up Main Street on Monday, motorists sat in wait for up to 10 minutes for a single lane of traffic to open while road crews there worked to repave the eastbound lane.
The four roadwork projects have been undertaken by the city and state as part of ongoing preparations for both governments to enter an “Urban Compact Agreement.” Under the agreement, the city will take over maintenance on certain portions of state roads that run through the city’s urban core.
The total project cost is $400,000, Beal said. The state paid about two-thirds of that, leaving Ellsworth to contribute about $130,000. Negotiations on the compact agreement are near complete, but it still needs to be passed by the City Council.
Beal said the roadwork was necessary to get the streets in tiptop shape before the city would agree to take over the management and maintenance of the roads. Crews milled about an inch and a half of pavement in an effort to erase fissures and potholes.
“It was a lot of cracks and holes,” Beal said. “Honestly, all of these roads, were a mess. They hadn’t been paved in many, many years.”
It’s now a race against the seasonal clock to get the work done, Beal said. Asphalt can only be laid when the temperature is higher than 50 degrees. That’s why the work is being done during the day, instead of overnight or early in the morning.
Beal said the city is lucky warm weather is predicted for this week. That’s good for getting the roads done before the cold snap sets in, but bad for commuters. Beal said it’ll all be worth it in the end.
“We just ask a little bit of patience,” she said. “Then they’ll have a lovely road to drive on for many, many years.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.