Falmouth's summer of discontent?: Drivers face construction at almost every turn
FALMOUTH — Road construction, an inevitable rite of summer, is set to blossom anew.
This year, however, the scope of road construction in Falmouth will be unprecedented.
"I've never seen anything like it," Jay Reynolds, the town's director of public works, said.
All across town, nearly a dozen projects have either begun or soon will. Some are minor inconveniences, like a smattering of two-day repaving projects. Others are mammoth undertakings.
U.S. Route 1 will see three major projects this season.
On its southern end, the final phases of bridge construction are underway at Martin's Point. In the business district, a $12.3 million dollar project to beautify the roadway will begin Monday, May 12. Elsewhere, a utility company will install 14 miles of natural gas pipeline, with nearly two miles of pipeline planned for the business district on Route 1.
Nonetheless, planners are optimistic that traffic will continue to flow, all things considered, with relative ease.
"Logistically, the way things are spread throughout town, one project won't affect the other too much," Reynolds said.
The town will also be rolling out several communication resources to keep residents aware of weekly progress on the U.S. Route 1 project.
Route 1 infrastructure
The $12.3 million project to change the face of the U.S. Route 1 business district will begin May 12, a week later than previously reported.
The project will begin near Waldo's General Store on the southern end of the business district and work south until it reaches Route 88, Reynolds said. Then construction will return to Waldo's and head north, with the bulk of the work on the western side of the road.
The town is planning a press conference Thursday, May 8, to explain the project and provide resources for weekly updates on the project. Those resources will be available on the town website, through automatic e-mail distribution, and on a Facebook page called "Town of Falmouth Route One Project."
"We're going to communicate as best as we can on a regular, weekly basis," Reynolds said.
Despite the size of the project, Reynolds said the traffic will continue flowing for the most part. Lane shifts will often be able to accommodate two-way traffic. Occasionally, traffic will alternate in one lane.
Contractor Sargent Corp. is required to keep at least one lane open at all times during the day, but will be allowed to close sections overnight as needed. In those cases, traffic will be detoured around the construction sites, but reopened in the morning, Reynolds said.
Changes to Route 1 and the surrounding business district have been discussed for at least three years. Voters in June 2013 approved by a slim margin an $11.7 million bond for the project. Another $600,000 will be paid by the state.
The bulk of construction will be done this year. Remaining work will be completed in the summer of 2015.
The improvements are meant to encourage a village-like atmosphere in the business district, with pedestrian walkways and attractive landscaping. The work will also help control storm-water runoff to reduce pollution of nearby waterways.
Some business owners, however, including Sam Hirsh of TripQuipment at 256 U.S. Route 1, remain doubtful about the project's benefits.
Hirsh said he doesn't believe the project will impede business too much this summer, but the end result won't improve business either. He is in favor of the plan to bury utility lines and install natural gas, but the recreational aspects of the project are impractical, he said.
As a frequent cyclist, Hirsh said he doesn't believe the recreational improvements will attract pedestrians and cyclists. When he rides, he wants to be away from traffic, on Route 88 for instance, rather than where it's heaviest. Wider lanes are an improvement, but they won't reduce traffic.
"I'd still be leery about riding on Route 1," he said. "This is a commercial zone and that's why I don't ride here. You've got cars and trucks and people pulling in and out. You can only do so much with what you have here."
Hirsh said he would rather see the town spend money to entice new businesses into the vacant spaces at the Falmouth Shopping Center and the former Regal Cinema, to create critical mass to the area and draw more customers.
"The overall appearance of it is going to be nice," he said, but like Hirsh, he doubted that improving pedestrian access will foster foot traffic.
"The idea of the pedestrian (improvements) is a good thing, but I don't really see it happening," Brannigan said. "I don't see people walking from business to business. We're just spread out too much."
Brannigan said he's not concerned about the other projects creating a town-wide traffic problem. For instance, the ongoing bridge project at Martin's Point, he said, has had no effect on the gardening supply store.
He added that project planners have been cooperative and responsive to the concerns of area businesses, and he has faith that the crews will do their best to limit impact on commerce.
The first phase of construction for a $42 million natural gas pipeline in the region is what separates this year's construction season from others, Reynolds said.
"If that was removed from the equation, it would be (an) average to heavy (season)," he said. "But that (gas) project really adds to the mix."
Construction of the pipeline began this month after a groundbreaking ceremony at Cumberland Fairgrounds. The work is due to arrive in Falmouth later this summer, but it's difficult to predict when.
At a recent informational meeting in Falmouth, Mike Duguay, director of business development for Summit Natural Gas, estimated that the pace of installation could vary widely, between 200 and 1,000 feet of progress per day.
Duguay also said the impact on traffic could be "significant," but the lasting benefits should outweigh the inconveniences, especially considering the infrastructure will generate revenue for the town as taxable property.
During the first year of a three-year construction plan, the pipeline will be installed along Route 88, Johnson Road, U.S. Route 1, then Depot, Falmouth, Woodville, Leighton and Gray roads.
On Route 1, the pipeline will extend from Johnson Road to the Morong Falmouth car dealership. That two-mile stretch will require "significant coordination" between the town and the construction company tasked with the Route 1 project, Reynolds said.
Similar to the Route 1 project, the utility company plans to provide project updates on its website, Facebook and Twitter.
The overall structure of the new Martin’s Point Bridge is complete, but travel delays are likely throughout May, according to a news release Tuesday from project spokeswoman Carol Morris.
This month, CPM Constructors will pour concrete for the bridge's 10-foot-wide multi-use path, grade the approaches, and prepare the roadway for paving.
"All this means much delivery of concrete and a significant amount of traffic disruption," the news release said.
Vehicles will be restricted to one lane of alternating traffic during much of this work, which will begin each day at 6:30 a.m. and continue until 5:30 p.m.
"Travelers who do not want to be subjected to delays should find alternate routes," the release advised.
The projected opening date of the new bridge is expected to be announced by mid-May. Even after the opening, however, construction will continue, along with gradual demolition of the old bridge, which could result in "minor construction delays," according to Morris, "... but generally the traffic should flow smoothly."
Assorted town projects
The town is planning a half-dozen additional projects this summer. Those plans include four two-day repaving projects at Casco Terrace in August; Leighton Road, from Brook Road to Gray Road, in mid-June; Middle Road, between Bucknam Road and the Maine Turnpike overpass, in August, and Woods Road, from Woodlands Drive to Woodville Road, in August.
There are also two larger road rehabilitation projects planned. One, on Hurricane Road, is already underway and should be complete by July, Reynolds said. The other project is planned for Blackstrap Road at Hardy Road, from mid-June to September. Both projects are meant to improve drainage and the road surface.
Another potential town project calls for improvements to Hat Trick Drive.
The Maine Turnpike Authority is also planning repairs to the Falmouth Road overpass.