Road construction woes

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES — Bridgton resident Al Bottone’s wife, Kim, works in Standish. Five days a week since mid-October, they’ve been driving through Naples road construction during the commute to her job.

In the rush of getting out the door and on her way to work, “We forget about the construction almost every morning,” Kim said.

But, once they approach the Naples Causeway, Al has a method for gauging whether the wait will be long enough to justify turning around.

“You have to see the traffic with your eyes, before you can figure it out. If we get backed up at the Landing, we take 114. If it’s backed up to the post office, it means we have a seven to 10-minute wait. The library — that’s more than a five-minute wait.”

Lately, the Bottones try to leave their house 20 minutes early to account for traffic delays and to ensure Kim arrives to work on time. They said they’ve been learning to live with — or skirt around — the construction on the Causeway.

The cause of traffic delays: The drainage work that’s taking place now is the beginning of the Bay of Naples Bridge project that will end with a new arched bridge and re-vamped community-friendly causeway by summer 2012, according to MDOT Resident Project Engineer Craig Hurd.

“Traffic has been bad because we’re trying to get so much done” in preparation for paving, Hurd said from his office on the Causeway.

In less than a week, on Nov. 10, Rampart Paving will roll its equipment into town, and begin paving a 450-foot section of Route 302 — south of the bridge from the Bay Of Naples Condominiums to the stoplight before Rite Aid, Hurd said. The paving crews will have a short window of time — and will need the magic temperature (40 degrees or higher) — to complete its task, he said.

Hurd said construction projects — especially ones on a main roadway like Route 302 — always force road delays and cause some chaos as crews work toward meeting deadlines and completing all construction phases.

“You have to break some eggs to make an omelet,” he said of the construction.

Looking at a sketch of the bridge, Hurd said Naples residents opted for unusual details like decorative surface treatment on the concrete bridge and walkways — something MDOT has never done when constructing a bridge in any other Maine community.

The blueprints don’t reveal the numerous hours during the past two years as residents aimed to retain the charm of their town center.

People living in and passing through Naples will witness the many construction phases of the $8.4 million dollar bridge project over the next two years, he said. While paving might be a pain in the neck for commuters this month, the MDOT has tried to lessen the impact construction will have on traffic flow. After Memorial Day 2011, construction activity must allow both lanes of Route 302 to remain open at all times, he said. Lanes will not be closed to construction for the duration of the Fryeburg Fair either, he said.

The swing bridge will remain in operation through summer 2011 to accommodate boat traffic. Construction on the proposed bridge will begin in September 2011, he said. The deadline to complete the bridge is May 2012. When the new bridge opens to traffic, the old one will be dismantled, he said.

Groundbreaking marked

On Friday, the official Bay of Naples Bridge Groundbreaking Ceremony took place amid the noise and traffic delays on the current Causeway.

Many of the people gathered there had emotional stakes to this MDOT construction project. It was truly the marking of a milestone for those individuals involved in the process in which Naples residents, town officials and MDOT arrived at the final plans for the future bridge and the surrounding causeway.

Many commented on the commitment level involved to keep attending those long meetings and to come to a solution — engineers’ final sketches for bridge and causeway.

Town Manager Derik Goodine joked that he was surprised MDOT employees hadn’t put on a few pounds after all the pizza served at twice-monthly meetings that often lasted hours.

Goodine spoke of fundraising and applying for Community Block Grants to continue developing the proposed tiered green space, which is marked for an amphitheater.

“This is the beginning of the dream. But, the dream is not over,” he said.

Jim Bigelow lives in the Bay of Naples Condominiums. The groundbreaking ceremony took place in his “back yard” and the event was “just perfect.”

During the past two years as Naples Bridge Renovation Committee vice chairman, Bigelow has invested time to the bridge-plans dream.

“Two meetings a month for two years” took place while community members went over every detail with a fine toothcomb, he said.

He was pleased with the proposed community-friendly causeway. It would be a visually pleasing town center for Naples residents and inviting to the thousands of tourists and summertime residents who already are drawn to the area.

Robert Neault, who is chairman of the Naples Causeway Restoration Committee, echoed Bigelow and Goodine’s excitement about opportunities with the future causeway.

“It will be a new center for culture and commerce and good old-fashioned recreating,” he said. “Keep patient with the construction. Sometimes, it will be loud, dusty and congested. I ask you to remember what is being built here.”

This week, MDOT took steps to expedite the traffic flow, Hurd said. They turned the stoplights to orange flashing lights and added a couple flaggers, he said. The stoplights along Route 302 had been conflicting with flaggers’ signs, causing some confusion and traffic bottlenecks. He said those changes have helped with smoother traffic movement.

Naples resident Kim Retus said the traffic snarls from the current road construction isn’t as bad as summertime vehicle congestion. But, it has been a nuisance, she said, especially since she didn’t know the construction was starting-up in mid-October near her home that she accesses off Lake House Road.

“It’s caused some headaches for me,” Retus said. “One day, I couldn’t get onto Route 302 from my road. I had to turn around and go (Route) 114. And, I was still late for work.”

“I’ve had to wait as many as 20 to 30 minutes at the most” heading west on Route 302, she said.

Local resident Cindy Dougherty said she thought traffic congestion from the construction “was way worse than it is in the summertime.” She got stuck in traffic while going to Tony’s Foodland for groceries; and she still needed to cross the bridge to check her mailbox at the post office. Dougherty thought the line of vehicles would clear out while she got a bite to eat, but the traffic jam didn’t disperse, she said.

MDOT’s Hurd predicts the traffic is going to be very congested just prior to the paving phase because crews will be ripping up the road.

Essentially, the paving project will start and finish in a short span of days. A Maine State law dictates that Nov. 15 is the cut-off date for paving, he said.

Then, crews will focus on the drainage work in the ditches. Meanwhile after paving, another crew will retreat to the shoreline of Long Lake to build the seawall.  He said there might be some stretches during the winter when there are no lane closures. Then, shutting down a lane of traffic might be necessary for a few days.

“There’s no way to get this project done without working all the way through the winter,” he said. “But, we are really trying to limit the disruptions.”

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