May 19, 2013

Hallowell, state officials to field Water Street reconstruction questions Wednesday

Project under feasibility study now; work, if approved, some 3-5 years away

By Susan McMillan
Staff Writer

HALLOWELL — City and Maine Department of Transportation officials are inviting residents and business owners to a public forum Wednesday to learn more about the planned reconstruction of Water Street.

click image to enlarge

Some of the parking spots on the Kennebec River side of Water Street in downtown Hallowell tilt down toward the sidewalk. Local and state officials on Wednesday will discuss the early findings of a Water Street reconstruction feasibility study, and are expected to answer questions.

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

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On the questions that make business owners the most anxious, however, few answers may be available.

"People are going to say, 'How are we going to keep our customers happy? What are we going to do for parking?' All of these things can be discussed," City Manager Michael Starn said. "I'm not sure we'll have the answers at this point, but we want everyone thinking about what we can do."

The Department of Transportation is working on a feasibility study for the project, examining century-old stormwater pipes and other infrastructure to see what work should be done while the street is torn up.

Between the feasibility study, engineering work and project funding, reconstruction could be years away, leaving some time for lane closure, sidewalk and parking logistics to be worked out.

"We're probably realistically looking at 3-5 years before we have any actual construction work going on down there," Starn said.

At the forum, scheduled for 6 p.m Wednesday in the City Hall auditorium, information will be presented about what's been learned in the feasibility study so far. Starn said there will be opportunities for questions and for suggesions of ways to minimize disruptions for residents and businesses.

Kim Davis, co-owner of the new Scrummy Afters candy shop, said she plans to attend to learn more about the potential benefits of the project.

"I understand the need. It's just what can they do to mitigate the impact on our businesses down here?" she said.

Davis said it would give her shop a chance to become more established if the construction doesn't happen for a few years.

John Holt, co-owner of Berry & Berry Floral, said he's not sure what would help businesses get through.

"It's going to hurt any retail business to have this street torn up," he said. "The least amount of shutdown is going to be the most productive for the businesses. This could actually close stores because of lack of revenue."

Berry & Berry has been on Water Street since 1997. Holt said fixing the exaggerated crown in the middle of the road and the sharp slope toward the river side of the street would enhance the look and feel of downtown, but a few years' delay could allow the economy to improve and give businesses a better chance of surviving.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645


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