November 20, 2012

Complaints spur reopening of Whittier Road

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON — Three weeks after closing a road due to safety concerns, town officials partially reopened it Tuesday morning because of complaints about convenience.

Whittier Road was closed Oct. 30 because of concerns that nearby riverbank erosion could cause a catastrophic collapse that would send the road into the nearby Sandy River.

On Nov. 13, Town Manager Richard Davis announced that the closing would remain in effect through the winter.

Police officers were assigned to enforce the road closure during football games at Mt. Blue High School, because traffic was cutting around the concrete barriers rather than following the four-mile detour.

On Tuesday, one lane of traffic on the road was reopened, according to Denis Castonguay, director of public works.

The decision was made by Davis, who was out of the office and unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Castonguay said Davis decided to reopen the road because of “taxpayers and businesspeople complaining about the inconvenience.”

Castonguay said that low-water levels on the river and colder temperatures have made the prospect of a collapse less likely.

When the road was closed, officials said traffic vibrations would be reduced, slowing erosion.

Castonguay said Tuesday that the current traffic levels are less harmful than previous levels, because traffic is now directed to the edge of the road furthest from the riverbank.

In addition, a rented stoplight is now slowing traffic, which Castonguay said is “keeping vibrations to a minimum.”

He said he was unsure of the exact cost of the stoplight but that he believed it was in the neighborhood of $500 per week.

Castonguay said that further developments, such as high water or further erosion, could trigger another closure.

“As I’ve told people and taxpayers, taxpayer safety is the utmost concern and if there’s a sense that might be an issue, we will close it again.”

The town has a plan in place to stabilize the bank permanently but it could not be implemented over the summer because of concerns about the impact of the project on local populations of the endangered Atlantic salmon, which uses the river as a spawning ground.

It is hoped that the project can be undertaken in 2013.

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