Generally, denizens of downtown Bangor know the construction that’s gone on all summer between Exchange, State, Harlow and Park streets is an unpleasant but needed project, which upon completion will improve everything from water service to sidewalk accessibility.
By the time the project is finished — on or before Nov. 30 — the area will have seen its entire water, sewer and stormwater systems replaced, as well as all-new sidewalks.
“It’s a necessary evil,” said Adam Moskovitz, who owns a block of buildings on Exchange Street between State and York streets. “You can’t frown about it too much, because in the long run, what we’re going to have in place when it’s done is so much better.”
But that doesn’t mean that the project, now in its seventh month and expected to last until the end of November, hasn’t given its share of headaches.
Susan Price Stephenson, who co-owns Pepino’s Mexican Restaurant, is no stranger to construction outside her door. This is her second season of construction on Park Street, after last year’s summerlong project to rebuild the retaining wall outside of Bangor City Hall.
“We understand that it’s a really important thing, but it has definitely impacted our business,” Stephenson said. “There have been days where, for us, it would have been worthwhile to just not open for lunch because the street is just a mess.”
Complications are to be expected in such a massive infrastructure undertaking.
“This is one of the most complicated projects the city has done in a long, long time,” said Todd Turner, president of Brewer-based Eastwood Contractors, the lead contractors on the project. “A lot of stuff we’re digging up is over 100 years old, and the records from back then aren’t as accurate as they are today. It can say something like ‘this pipe is ten feet from the big oak tree,’ but that oak tree hasn’t been there for 50 years. It makes it challenging.”
Nevertheless, business owners and residents alike think there are several things that could have been done that would have made the process go more smoothly. For instance, the city started its new parking enforcement system Oct. 1, utilizing a vehicle that will scan license plates to see if a vehicle has gone over the time limit in a given spot.
Stephenson said she understands the need to improve the way parking enforcement is handled in the city but wondered why it had to happen now.
“I question the wisdom of unrolling a total overhaul of the city’s parking system during a time when a significant percentage of the downtown parking is unavailable,” Stephenson said. “It just seems like kind of bad timing.”
Sam Wood, owner of Forecastle Tattoo on State Street, was similarly upset by the timing of the new parking system.
“It just doesn’t seem fair to take away every single parking space near my building and then institute this much more strict ticketing situation,” Wood said. “You could at least have waited. It just seems like they are trying to penalize us, instead of accommodating us.”
In addition to the loss of parking, the sidewalks on State Street hill also are closed off for the duration of the project. Greg Edwards, an advocate for pedestrians and cyclists in the city, said that this presents a challenge to anyone on foot or in a wheelchair.
“You’ve either got to walk in the middle of traffic or walk very far out of the way in order to get to where you need to be,” Edwards said. “And that’s not to mention the problems for drivers as well. It’s often just plain confusing.”
The level of communication between the city, the contractors and owners, businesses, and residents about closures, changes to traffic patterns, general accessibility and other activity varies, depending on the day. Each week crew leaders and inspectors from the water district and the city meet to discuss that week’s plans, and send that information to the city so it can send out traffic notifications.
Turner says it is not always possible to give much advance notice on what exactly is happening on a given day.
“As far as the day to day goes for our crew leaders on the ground, it’s really fluid. You can plan on doing one thing, and then something comes up and you have to do something different,” Turner said. “They have to make those decisions on a day-to-day basis. A project as big as this, that’s just the nature of it.”
Edwards says improvements can be made in terms of both accessibility and keeping concerned parties informed about a particular day’s construction status.
“It would go a long way if the city could include in whatever contracts they sign for these projects a clause that says someone has to communicate with the general public what will and won’t be closed, and that there has to be clear road signage,” Edwards said. “It would just be nice to know what to expect.”
Regardless of all the variables — how long it’s taken, the accessibility and communication issues, the parking problems, and so on — nearly everyone agrees that the results will be worth it.
“I would rather them do it right the first time than hurry the process and then have to dig it all up again five years later,” Moskovitz said. “I think once everything is done, everyone is going to be extremely pleased.”
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