Street work to be a fact of life in South Portland's Knightville neighborhood

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SOUTH PORTLAND — It could be a bumpy spring, summer and fall in Knightville.

Drivers can expect detours and lane closures along Cottage Road and Ocean Street for more than half of 2012 thanks to a construction project that will include work on water, utility and sewer systems, plus roads and sidewalks.

Preliminary estimates put the city’s share of the project cost at about $2 million. If the City Council approves the project early this year, construction could start in April and last through November.

The final kinks are still being worked out, city engineer Brad Weeks said. But the project will include Portland Water District, Central Maine Power Co., Unitil, Fairpoint and the city’s departments of Water Resource Protection, Parks and Recreation, Public Works and Transportation.

“If all these parties do this as a consolidated project, there are considerable savings,” said Greg L’Heureux, South Portland’s finance director. “We didn’t want (the other entities) digging up the street after we had just done the same sections ourselves.”

The largest part of the city’s share of work will be a sewer separation project that will eliminate 43 combined catch basins in Knightville.

In December, the city adopted a 12-year, $15.6 million plan to eliminate all but one combined sewer discharge point in South Portland. Getting rid of the 43 basins, which contribute to the discharge of sewer water into Casco Bay during wet weather, will have a major impact on the city’s effort to keep the bay clean.

Weeks said the Water Resource Protection Department had also been in touch with businesses in Knightville as part of a plan to eventually hook business storm-water systems – sump pumps, roof drains, etc. – to the city’s drainage system.

“We’ll bring the storm service right up to their right-of-way, but then it will be up to the property owner to make the final connection,” he said. 

Weeks said the Portland Water District will also replace two 100-year-old water mains running underground along Ocean Street. One of those mains burst last August, leaving 15 customers, including Hannaford, without water for about a day.

Unitil will bring natural gas service to the area, and Fairpoint and CMP will relocate several utility poles. 

The work might create a headache for businesses in Knightville, but it’s worth it, said Bob O’Brien of the Waterfront Market Association. The association is a nonprofit organization seeking to bolster the vitality of Knightville, Mill Creek and Legion Square.

“This is kind of like ripping off the Band-Aid, to do it all in one summer,” O’Brien said Wednesday. “It’s no question it’s going to be a hassle, but in the long run we should have a nicer area than we have now.”

That “hassle” should be alleviated by plenty of temporary signs and alternative routes. Weeks said the city will put up signs letting motorists know that business is still open in Knightville, and alternative parking will be available on side streets. 

Most of the sidewalks in the area are about 4 feet wide, Weeks said, with trees and other “obstacles” blocking many of them.

Sidewalk work this spring and summer should bring the walks on Ocean Street closer to 7  or 8 feet wide, he said. And the Parks and Recreation Department will rework landscaping to be less obtrusive and, hopefully, more attractive. 

Plus, the wider sidewalks will allow city equipment to remove snow in the winter, something impossible now on the narrow walkways.

L’Heureux, the city finance director, said funding and final cost projections are still being worked out. But the city has already received a $500,000 Maine Department of Transportation grant for some of the work on Ocean Street.

Additionally, $100,000 of Community Development Block Grant money is expected to cover much of the sidewalks on Ocean Street. Much of the rest of the project would be paid for by income from Hannaford tax increment financing and from the Urban Road Improvement Fund.

L’Heureux said the local tax rate shouldn’t be affected by the project. 

The city will hold a public meeting about the project at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, at City Hall. 

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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