October 29, 2012

Hallowell's slanted Water Street subject of state, local study

$150,000 joint effort will find solutions to safety, parking and drainage problems

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

HALLOWELL -- A big box truck parked in front of Harlow Gallery last week.

click image to enlarge

Some of the parking spots on east side (the Kennebec River side) of Water Street in downtown Hallowell tilt down toward the sidewalk.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Some of the parking spots on east side (the Kennebec River side) of Water Street in downtown Hallowell tilt down toward the sidewalk.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Because of the way the east side of Water Street slopes down sharply, the top of the truck leaned so far over the sidewalk that it knocked an American flag off a lamppost, along with the bracket that held it.

Deb Fahy, the gallery's executive director, held onto the flag and bracket until they could go back up.

After incidents like that -- and years of seeing people struggle to get in and out of vehicles parked on the east side of Water Street -- Fahy hopes the road will finally be overhauled.

"I know it'll be tough on businesses, but it needs to be done," Fahy said.

Hallowell and the Maine Department of Transportation are close to signing an agreement for a $150,000 feasibility study of solutions to safety, parking and drainage problems on the street.

The city would pay $30,000 for the study, and the transportation department would pay the rest with state and federal money.

The City Council has authorized City Manager Michael Starn to sign the agreement once state transportation officials identify the money available for its portion of the study.

State transportation planner Nate Howard said Commissioner David Bernhardt has signed off, and state funding is in place. Howard expects to receive approval soon for federal funding that also will go toward the study.

The study process will take about a year and look at options for the scope of reconstruction, scheduling the work and sharing costs between Hallowell and the state.

Starn said a city resident who used to work at the transportation department said it has been a century since Water Street was rebuilt. Since then, superficial fixes have added more layers of asphalt and built up a crown in the center of the road that is causing many of the problems.

Howard said the resident's account is plausible. State records show no major work on Water Street in the last 20 years, but the department did a light paving job in the mid-1990s.

The sloping on the east side causes vehicle doors to scrape against the sidewalk, and any accumulation of snow can prevent doors from opening at all. Winter slush is often ankle-deep in the gutter. People who have mobility problems may have even more difficulty getting into or out of vehicles.

The study also will assess the condition of the road base, stormwater pipes and other infrastructure, because no one knows much about what's below the street, Howard said.

A feasibility study is especially important in Hallowell's situation because of several factors that make its section of U.S. Route 201 unique from other state highways, said Martin Rooney, transportation planning division director.

"I've driven almost every road of the state of Maine, and the age of the buildings next to a road that carries significant volumes of traffic, the parking issue, where one side of the road is several feet below the other side of the road -- I have not seen that anywhere in the state of Maine," Rooney said.

The traffic pattern on other roads allows work to be done in the spring or fall, or at night, but timing could be more difficult for Water Street because the flow of traffic is not limited to rush hour or vacation season, Rooney said.

Starn said one important point of discussion for planners, residents and businesses will be whether it's better to work on one section of the road at a time or try to get it all done as quickly as possible.

He noted that there were many complaints about disruptions because of work on U.S. 201 in Farmingdale and Augusta last year and earlier this summer.

(Continued on page 2)

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