OLD TOWN, Maine — A busy section of Stillwater Avenue will soon undergo a complete makeover — a project most agree will help address traffic congestion and safety concerns but that also is expected to temporarily reduce visits to some businesses in the area.
The roughly $7 million project is set to begin in the spring, likely in April or May, and is expected to be completed in late fall, although some of the final touches might run into early 2014, Paul MacDonald, the Maine Department of Transportation project manager who is overseeing the work, said Friday.
The project will include, among other things, the reconstruction of the stretch of Stillwater that runs from the intersection of College Avenue to Old Town Elementary School; the addition of a third traveling lane, crosswalks and sidewalks; installation of new water and sewer mains, and extensive drainage improvements.
“It’s basically a widening with safety and drainage improvements,” MacDonald said. The new configuration will consist of three lanes — northbound, southbound and center turning — as well as a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the westerly side. In addition, ditches along the stretch will be replaced by a closed drainage system.
Most of the work will occur within the state’s right-of-way, he said.
Rob Kenerson, director of Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation Systems, said the project will address safety concerns.
“What we have is two lanes [for vehicle traffic] and a need for sidewalks,” he said. The result has been “a lot of rear-end accidents” and close calls for pedestrians. While he could not recall any fatalities in the area in recent years, “we were waiting to see it happen. I think with that middle lane, that will get this out of the way.”
In separate work expected to take place during the same time period, Bangor Gas will install a natural gas line and related infrastructure, MacDonald said. Kenerson added that Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation has budgeted for coordinating the two traffic signals within the stretch.
While they both said the upgrade is needed, the owners of two businesses located in the project area said this week they expect to see a drop in business while the work is in progress.
“I’ve been through this at other locations and it’s not pretty,” said Randy Wadleigh, president and chief executive officer of the Governor’s Restaurant chain. Governor’s flagship eatery is located near the intersection of Stillwater and College avenues.
“I don’t like it but I understand that it needs to be done,” he said.
Wadleigh said he expects to see a financial loss while the construction is under way.
That’s what he has seen happen at other Governor’s locations around Maine, which typically see a 15 percent drop in business during road reconstruction projects like the one set for Old Town this spring and summer.
“It’s not catastrophic but it’s noticeable,” he said. “We’re planning on combating it with specials, especially in June, to drive traffic in. What else can I do?” he said.
Larry Hannon, who along with his wife Kathy, own the Dairy Queen restaurant on Stillwater, said he expects to see a drop in business as a result of the road work.
“That is one of my biggest concerns — how they handle [access to businesses]. That’s our season — May and June are our best months,” said Hannon, who also owns Dairy Queens at the Bangor Mall and in Freeport.
Despite his worries about a potential dip in business, Hannon agreed the work needs to be done, especially the addition of a center turning lane.
“The road has always been busy. Sometimes traffic backs up all the way to the interstate,” he said. The lack of sidewalks in parts of the project area also are a concern because many children and young families walk in the area.
Hannon’s strategy for making up some of the business he expects to lose this summer includes reaching out to road construction crews and flaggers, “Honestly, I’m going to walk outside and offer them discounts. I think that’s gonna be the best way to do it.”
Old Town-Orono YMCA Director Jeffery Wheelden does not expect the construction work to have much of an effect on the organization’s facility, located down the street from the project’s endpoint.
“It’s certainly going to be inconvenient but the end result, I think, is going to be good. An additional lane will help with rush hour at the end of the day,” he said, noting the worst congestion typically happens from 3 to 6 p.m.
“From our perspective, the spring and summer months would be the best timing for this kind of work” because those are slower periods at the YMCA, Wheelden said.
Old Town Public Works Director John Rouleau said he knows the project will result in some annoyances.
“I liken this a lot to getting your kitchen and bathroom renovated. Everyone knows you need to get it done but it doesn’t take very long before you get tired of doing dishes in the tub,” he said.
“Hopefully, people will forget how tough it was when they see the outcome. I know the [MDOT] will do the very best they can” to minimize problems for property owners and the traveling public, he said.
Besides the safety and congestion benefits, Rouleau said, a milelong section of continuous pavement will be easier to plow and require less sand and salt.
In addition, he said, city officials hope the work will stimulate economic development. Some of the land in the area has been rezoned to accommodate new businesses, he said.