BELFAST, Maine — A major road reconstruction project happening on Front Street in Belfast is creating a lot of dust, slowing down traffic and at times closing the road and impeding local business.
But it will all be worth it in the end, according to city officials and business owners who are looking forward to having a smooth, well-built road that they believe will help the area prosper.
“This is not a pavement resurfacing. It’s a major reconstruction project,” City Planner Wayne Marshall said Friday. “Front Street will go from what I call a very undefined street to having sidewalks, parking spaces and curbs. The road will be in good condition, rather than the glorified cowpath it is today.”
The nearly $4 million project has been in the works for some time, though the work crews only brought their heavy machinery to the road at the beginning of April. They are working to replace antiquated water lines, sewer lines and storm drains with modern ones; to reconstruct and widen the road; to put in a sidewalk from the Purple Baboon Gift Shop to the Front Street Pub; to add street lamps and parking spaces; and to build a parking lot at the intersection of Pierce, Bridge and Front streets.
“We’re trying to put this area back together and have it function well for Belfast for the long term,” Marshall said.
Front Street runs along part of the waterfront on land that was almost entirely built on fill in the 19th century. The road has seen increased traffic since the Front Street Shipyard moved in a few years ago, and it is home to several popular local eateries, such as Three Tides & Marshall Wharf Brewing Co., Front Street Pub and the Harborwalk Restaurant.
The scope of the reconstruction project has had an effect on business, according to John Gibbs, a co-owner of Front Street Pub and the Harborwalk Restaurant.
“One day we just chose not to open for lunch because there was no way to get into the restaurant,” he said Friday, adding that road closures have decreased some of their lunchtime crowd, too. “The dust has definitely been an issue. There’s nothing we can do except clean it, and we do.”
On the other hand, Gibbs said work crews have been accommodating and communicative. He also said he’s seen more diners, thanks to the folks who have come down to see what is happening on Front Street. The project is a good one for the city and the neighborhood, he believes.
“It’s a necessary thing. We’re really happy it’s being done,” he said. “The street’s going to be pretty. No more dirt and dust. It’s going to be beautiful.”
Right now, workers are concentrating on the area between Main Street and the Belfast water treatment plant. According to Marshall, contractors are hoping to finish that part of the project by late July. Work from the treatment plant to Pierce Street should be completed by mid-November.
Breanna Pinkham Bebb, executive director of downtown booster group Our Town Belfast, said that if Front Street is closed, she hopes people will take advantage of the pedestrian-only Harbor Walk to get where they want to go.
“We hope folks will remember that Front Street is open for business and that there is still access to the restaurants, bars, shops and offices in the area,” she said.