June 22, 2018
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Bangor’s downtown construction project a ‘necessary evil,’ but retailers are seeing less traffic

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Brad Ryder knew the construction site in front of his sporting goods store was grimy, but it was sunny on Tuesday, so he opened his front doors for some fresh air.

Big mistake.

Traffic passing through Hammond, Main and Central streets created enough dust to amaze workers at Ryder’s Epic Sports shop, he said.

“The counters were gross,” Ryder said Wednesday. “Fortunately, we have had all this rain, so that was really the first day that it was bad.”

Ryder and other downtown business owners say that the dust, noise and clogged traffic at the intersection of the three streets have been annoyances that in some cases have hurt sales.

“I don’t want to be a downer,” Ryder said. “This [work] is a necessary evil that is long overdue. But we are seeing less” customer traffic.

Crews manning backhoes have been working to replace more than 150-year-old water and sewer mains and other utilities in front of Epic Sports and Giacomo’s deli since April. Utilities will go underground on Hammond, city officials have said. The work will cost $1.6 million and is expected to wrap in September.

City Engineer John Theriault on Wednesday said crews are making good progress. The mains have been replaced in the intersection and the work, done almost entirely at night to reduce inconvenience, will switch to daylight hours in early June, he said.

His office received one complaint, from a resident kept awake by the overnight work, he said.

“I think it’s been going very well. There’s been times where traffic has been better,” Theriault said. “We are in an unique spot there because there is no way to get the traffic through that intersection smoothly.”

Hilary Gocze, assistant manager at Central Street’s Rock & Art Shop, said she found the tight parking to be her biggest hassle.

Briar Patch Bookstore owner Gibran Graham, a city councilor, estimates that an average of only five vehicles get through the intersection between red lights. He found the situation grim enough on Central Street that he thought snarled motorists could use what he called “a little oasis amidst the traffic desert downtown.” So Graham passed out snacks to them last Friday.

Yet it could be worse, said Josh Parda, manager at Central Street Farmhouse. Construction crews have worked overnight to lessen the inconvenience, although that has prompted some downtown dwellers to complain that the noise is making sleep difficult.

The workers “are trying to be good about it,” Ryder said.

Ryder credited city officials with keeping store owners informed about construction progress, since water main failures have caused sinkholes and flooding downtown for years, Ryder said.

“It’s inconvenient now, but in the end, it will be worth it,” Ryder said.


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