BRUNSWICK — A public road project proposed to open land for development in Cook’s Corner could cost more than $2.2 million, according to a preliminary engineering report.
The new projection is roughly $600,000 more than earlier estimates.
Town officials stressed that the figure is an early estimate, and said they are confident the cost can be reduced after they finish analyzing the road design and get estimates from local construction experts.
The proposed project would connect Gurnet Road with Tibbetts Drive, and would cross Thomas Point Road just south of where it intersects with Bath Road. An earlier estimate put the cost of the project at $1.6 million.
“I think we were all a little bit surprised,” acting Town Manager John Eldridge said.
Town staff intend to begin meeting with local construction consultants next week to dig into the design and see where elements might be scaled back or even removed, Eldridge said.
“We haven’t looked at the design in detail yet,” he said.
The project is designed to open up for development a relatively small strip of land between the Cook’s Corner shopping areas on Gurnet Road and the Wal-Mart complex on Tibbetts Drive.
The property in question is owned by developers who hope to build new retail and office buildings.
Expansion has been blocked because it isn’t possible to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Thomas Point and Bath roads, which the state Department of Transportation requires to ease traffic congestion.
An alternate plan is to build a road to bypass the intersection and direct traffic parallel to Bath Road.
According to the new projections provided by Brunswick-based Sitelines PA, upgrading about 1,850 feet of Thomas Point Road southwest of the Bath Road intersection would be the most expensive aspect of the project, costing more than $1 million.
The upgraded road would include sidewalks and curbs on both sides, improved drainage, and a raised median with two turning lanes.
“Road A,” which would run from Gurnet Road to Thomas Point Road, would cost almost $79,000, while “Road B,” from Thomas Point to Tibbetts, would cost almost $341,000. The total cost estimate includes $20,000 to acquire rights of way for the roads.
On Wednesday, Jim Howard, the head of Topsham-based Priority Real Estate Group, who has been spearheading the project, suggested that it is too early to talk about the true cost of the project based on the preliminary estimates.
“Looking at the price of the road at this point, and the estimates and guidelines we’ve been given by Sitelines, is premature,” Howard said. The final price should work out to be within the $1.5-$1.6 million range, he added.
Howard has been pursuing the road for several years and has worked with Just Because LLC, owned by Auburn-based developer George Schott and R.E. Management, to make it a reality.
The three entities and DDR Inc., which owns the Cook’s Corner Plaza, all own property in the area, and Schott is completing a Goodwill retail store at the site of the former Atrium hotel.
According to Howard, R.E. Management has agreed to take over responsibility for building the Thomas Point-to-Tibbetts section of the road as part of developing their property in the area.
To fund the rest of the project, town officials have proposed a new Tax Increment Financing district for the area.
Town Councilors David Watson and Gerry Favreau have been working with town staff on a draft agreement for the full council to discuss at the same time it considers taking on the road construction.
The road-building project is included in the town’s 2014-2018 capital improvement program, approved by councilors earlier this year.
The success of the project, however, will hinge on how expensive it finally ends up being, and whether developers agree to deed to the town the land it needs to build the road.
There is no formal agreement with developers to build the eastern part of the road, and no deeds in place for the land needed to construct the Gurnet-to-Thomas Point section. But Eldridge said there is an understanding that it would require “significant public-private partnership” to make the project come together.
Favreau, who has long lobbied for the road as a way to revive Cook’s Corner’s sagging fortunes, agreed the price tag provided by Sitelines came as a surprise, but was confident the town could find a way to bring the cost down.
“There’s ways that we can cut a lot out of this,” Favreau said.
The town needs to act on the road with a sense of urgency, Favreau added, noting the recent news that more retailers have decided to take their businesses out of Cook’s Corner.
“We have to do something,” Favreau said “We have to stop the bleeding. If any more stores leave, there’s going to be a mass exodus.”