November 20, 2012

Bowing to complaints, Farmington partially reopens Whittier Road

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

FARMINGTON -- Three weeks after closing Whittier Road because of safety concerns, it was partially reopened Tuesday because of complaints about convenience.

click image to enlarge

Traffic passes the Whittier Road in Farmington on Nov. 15. The road, which had been blocked off due to erosion of soil between the roadway and Sandy River, has been partially reopened.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Farmington Fire Chief Terry Bell, in back, Public Works Director Denis Castonguay, left, and Franklin County Emergency Management Director Tim Hardy monitor the rising Sandy River in Farmington on Oct. 30, at the site of erosion of a steep bank beside the Whittier Road.

Staff file photo by David Leaming

Town officials closed the road Oct. 30 because riverbank erosion nearby could cause a collapse that would send the road into the nearby Sandy River.

On Nov. 13, Town Manager Richard Davis announced that the road would be closed through the winter.

Police were assigned to keep drivers off the road 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 Whittier Road was reopened.

Public Works Director Denis Castonguay said the decision was made by Davis, who was out of the office and unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Castonguay said the decision was made because of "taxpayers and businesspeople complaining about the inconvenience."

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

When the road was closed, officials said it would reduce traffic vibrations, slowing erosion.

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

In addition, a rented stoplight slows traffic, keeping vibrations to a minimum, Castonguay said.

He said he wasn't sure how much the stoplight cost, but it was in the neighborhood of $500 per week.

Castonguay said the road could be closed if water rises or erosion gets worse.

"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," he said.

The town's plan to stabilize the bank permanently had to be put off last summer because it could have an impact on the endangered Atlantic salmon, which use the river as a spawning ground.

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

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com

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