September 24, 2018
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Portland weary as construction blocks traffic, deters business, cuts water

By Troy R. Bennett, BDN Staff
Updated:

PORTLAND, Maine — The city has been without one of its main cross-town routes for three months now, and it’s going to have to go even longer.

Officials closed State Street to traffic at the end of August so construction crews could rip out old sewer lines and make federally mandated upgrades. The street, a main route from Interstate 295 to the Casco Bay Bridge, was scheduled to reopen in three months. Tuesday marked that deadline, but the work remains unfinished.

The culprit in the holdup is a surprise bit of underground ledge.

Aside from being a commuting hassle, neighborhood residents are contending with construction noise for 12 hours a day, five days a week. They’re also enduring closed sidewalks, vanishing on-street parking and sometimes going without water.

That’s left residents and business owners frustrated. But there’s an end in sight, city officials said Monday.

“It’s almost over,” Department of Public Works Director Christopher Branch said.

Branch predicts Sargent Corp., the contractor on the project, will start paving on Dec. 8 and be done by Dec. 15. But that’s if the weather cooperates. Below freezing temperatures would make paving difficult. In any case, it will only be temporary blacktop. The Sargent Corp. will have to do finish paving in the spring.

Temporary water lines will be removed and sidewalks will be put back together by the end of the year, Branch said.

Branch said even though the construction is behind schedule, it’s still on budget. The State Street phase is part of a decades-long plan for separating the city’s sewer and storm drain lines.

The end of construction season can’t come fast enough for many Parkside neighborhood residents.

Tim Karu, owner of the six-room Mercury Inn on State Street said he’s had at least a dozen canceled reservations because of the construction.

“It’s decimated our business during the busiest season of the year,” Karu said. “In terms of people who never booked, I can tell you our November occupancy is generally somewhere between 60 and 80 percent. It’s right now at about 16 percent.”

Jason Brown lives about a block away from the inn on State Street. Brown said he’s lost his water more than once without warning. The last time was a week ago.

“We got an apology from someone in Public Works (saying) that obviously wasn’t supposed to happen,” he said, “but that doesn’t help when you need to get to work and you can’t take a shower.”

Brown, who doesn’t have off-street parking, also said finding a place for his car has been a nightmare.

“I’ve only gotten one parking ticket since they began,” he said. “So, I guess I’m ahead of the game?”

Tim Gaines works full time while going to college and lives at the corner of Cumberland Avenue and State Street. On Monday, a mammoth jackhammer was carving out a piece of underground ledge just outside his window.

“It’s affecting everybody,” Gaines said over the noise of the machine. “If there was a comparable place I could afford to go, away from this, I would.”

According to Branch, it’s the ledge that’s led to the delay. Construction workers didn’t expect it to be there, and they can’t remove it they way they normally would.

“With all the old buildings up there, the old structures, we just can’t do blasting with dynamite, which is the quick and easy way to do it,” Branch said. “We’re afraid we’ll lose somebody’s foundation.”

Justin Pellerin, the project engineer on the construction, said affected residents should expect an official update from the city soon.

“By the end of the week,” Pellerin said. “It’ll go out through the mail for the residents that are directly impacted by it, and we’ll probably put it out on the city website as well.”

The city’s next sewer upgrade project, on Washington Avenue, around Fox and Monroe Streets, is due to start next week.

Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who chairs the transportation committee and represents the Parkside neighborhood, did not return a call seeking comments.

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