Friday, September 20, 2013

River Road project to begin in early 2014 - By Elizabeth Richards

After several years of planning and public meetings, the reconstruction of 5.9 miles of River Road from Route 202 to Route 302, which includes the addition of a roundabout at Windham Center Road, will go to bid by early next year. Ernie Martin, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) project manager said, “We’re finally there. It has been a long process, longer than expected but for the most part we’re ready to go. I’m excited to get people out there working so people can see that it is going to happen.”  
There were skeptics early on – people who had seen the rebuilding of River Road discussed and dismissed in the past. But through a process that began with a project advisory committee, continued with public hearings, and will soon be advertised for contractor bids, the end result will be a safer commuter route from the Portland area to Windham.  “It’s always good to get something done that we promise – I’m looking forward to it because it has been long process, it has had a few bumps in the road but I think in the end it will be a good road,” said Martin.

Currently, the MDOT is finalizing the plans, and is in the middle of the right of way process, which entails contacting property owners and meeting with them to talk about the impacts on each property and working out details. 

At least one River Road resident isn’t happy with the effect the road project is going to have on his property. Bill Doughty’s house is currently shielded from the traffic on River Road by a nicely landscaped group of trees, which are projected to be removed to make way for drainage. “It is this place, those trees. It’s why I bought it. As you can see, it’s my buffer zone to the River Road,” said Doughty.  “[The design] will dump me right on the street. That’s not why I bought this place,” he added.

The project will leave Doughty’s house completely exposed to the road, as well as cutting a corner off edge of his lot, taking down a stone wall. Doughty pointed to the woods across the road from his lot, “You see what’s across the street?  Nothing!” he said. “They can keep the center of the road where it was depicted when it was horse and buggy, or why don’t you just move it over a little bit, put the center on that side. Take that and leave my trees,” he added. 

Doughty believes in the rebuilding of the road, and said he’s seen many accidents near his house in the winter. “I agree with what they want to do,” he said. He doesn’t agree with how they are doing it. When public meetings were being held, he said he couldn’t attend due to work commitments. He said he tried to call, but his phone messages were never returned. “Now that it’s beyond the changing point, then they answer my phone call,” he said.
Doughty, who has owned the property since 1993, and made many improvements to the house, including building decks and a garage, as well as additional landscaping, says he has a feeling of helplessness about the situation. “It just seems like this is out of my hands, and I’m going to lose a significant part of the worth of this house,” he said.  

When asked about right of way issues, Martin said “Obviously as we go to do a project of this magnitude, you’re going to run into things.”  Often, trees are a big problem, he said. With highways that haven’t been rebuilt for decades, if ever, you often have to look at roadway drainage, he said. And this sometimes means the ditch lines are in the trees. Sometimes, he added, the trees are in the state right of way, not on private property. Because of federal and state dollars being spent, and federal guidelines, they are sometimes limited as to what they can do, he said. “It does have its difficulties, but the intent of the department is to work with each individual property owner the best we can and hopefully we can meet their needs. Sometimes it’s difficult depending on the situation,” he said. 

The project will make the road safer, with better sight lines and a corrected profile to eliminate the runoff that happens with the current road in winter. The 5-foot shoulder will allow law enforcement a safe place to pull speeding vehicles over. The addition of the roundabout at Windham Center Road will also help keep speeds down. “That is going to become a traffic calmer. People have to slow down to navigate the roundabout. I think that’s one way to slow them down,” said Martin. 

Martin said the public advisory committee process they went through with the town of Windham was very beneficial, allowing people who live on the road, and key community leaders, an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns. “That was very key to me because they gave me what we then designed. I can’t speak more highly of the folks that were on that advisory committee,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better process or better people on the committee to help guide us to where we are today.”

Once the right of way process is complete, the project will be advertised for about three weeks. Upon submission of required documentation by the contractor, the project will be awarded, and then construction can begin. This process can take a few months, Martin said. When the project has been awarded, clearing or utility work could potentially happen quickly, if the winter is mild. Construction for the full project will have a two year timetable, and is projected to be complete in approximately November of 2015. “As we button up our design, we’ll look at it a little closer and finalize that date before we put the bid package out,” said Martin.

Martin is pleased to see the project finally coming to fruition. “We’re getting ready to finally get this thing to the finish line and get some dirt moving, so people can see that. I know they’ve been patiently waiting.”

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