Busy Downtown Wiscasset Facelift to Ease Route 1 Jams
Multiple Moving Parts: MaineDOT’s Wiscasset Project to Reduce Congestion on Principal Coastal Artery
Details, details and more details – there’s a lot more than the usual highway construction to the Maine Department of Transportation project in Wiscasset, a popular tourist destination in the state’s scenic mid-coast region.
The transportation agency awarded Pike Industries the $6.85 million U.S. 1 Downtown Improvements project to reduce traffic congestion on the state’s principal coastal artery (known as Main Street in town). Every year during July and August, Wiscasset is plagued with Main Street bottlenecks that frustrate local residents, tourists, and pass-through motorists alike.
At one time, DOT officials had considered building a bypass highway around Wiscasset but eventually abandoned the idea as being too expensive ($100 million) in order to relieve traffic for just two months. The current project aims to better the traffic flow through the town while substituting side-street parking for current Route 1 parking. Supporters of the project say the elimination of downtown parking will not only help abate seasonal traffic jams but, more importantly, increase pedestrian safety. And a number of new amenities will enhance the appearance of downtown Wiscasset as well as improve the comfort of pedestrians.
Adding to safety benefits promised by changes in parking patterns are essential roadway improvements that range from pavement preservation treatments to full reconstruction.
Many Moving Parts
MaineDOT describes the scope of work of the Wiscasset undertaking simply as “Downtown improvements along Route 1 including parking upgrades in town,” and classifies the job as a “highway program” with a project length of 0.46 miles. But this understates the amount, complexity and challenges of the work on this project – there are many moving parts, and the devil’s in the details.
“There are a lot of difficult aspects to this job,” said Robert Clewley of Kleinfelder Construction Services, the Resident Inspector.
“It’s classified as a highway project but it is more urban in nature – there are brick sidewalks, traffic lights, landscaping – it’s a complicated, labor-intensive job.”
He said there are many different types of construction activities going on at any one time, with about 20 subcontractors and nine utility companies involved, and much of their work has to be done at night.
Accessibility is Priority
Pike Industries started construction in June 2018, stopped activities for winter early in December, and resumed working the first week of April. The contractor is expected to finish the project in October. Key personnel include Jason Griffiths, Pike’s Project Superintendent, and Ernest Martin, MaineDOT’s Project Manager.
While U.S. 1 is a north-south coastal artery, it actually runs east-west through downtown Wiscasset. Four north-south streets intersect U.S. 1’s 750-foot project length at approximately right angles: Fort Hill/Federal, Middle Street, Water Street, and Railroad Avenue.
Normal work hours on this project are Sunday through Thursday, 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., in order to minimize impact on the traveling public and allow all businesses to be open and accessible. However, some daytime work has been allowed, for example, on Railroad Avenue, as long as it doesn't impact Main Street. “Maintaining accessibility to local businesses is a top MaineDOT priority,” said Clewley.
A New Look
Main Street is arguably the most active and diverse part of the project, with full road reconstruction taking place together with the installation of substantial pedestrian amenities. Changes also include new turn-out lanes at intersections. Some essential drainage improvements have been made including the installation of larger pipe and drainage structures in some spots. Route 1 varies in width between 23 feet and 53 feet, with sidewalks on either side. The new pavement consist of 22 inches of aggregate sub-base and 8 inches of hot mix asphalt. Sidewalks are being broadened to meet ADA specifications and are constructed of brick pavers on a stable two-inch thick bituminous concrete base. Work crews are busy installing new benches, landscaping with aesthetic plantings, ornamental lamp posts that improve sidewalk lighting, and granite bollards, all to enhance downtown appearance.
The bollards are linked together with chains for two reasons: they prevent vehicles from invading on pedestrian space, while encouraging pedestrians to use two new crosswalks with traffic lights and walk signals that replace many former, less safe, crossings.
More Parking Spaces
A key feature of the plan to ease traffic bottlenecks is the elimination of almost all of the 25 existing parking spaces on Main Street. According to MaineDOT officials, when the project is finished, more spaces will be available than before, owing to the construction of a new parking lot at the northern end of Railroad Avenue. The lot provides about 30 spaces, including two bus parking stalls. Work entails drilling and blasting ledge, excavation, construction of a substantial retaining wall composed of wet-cast small landscape block, and bituminous concrete paving and striping.
Pike is also rebuilding a major portion of Railroad Avenue, some currently composed of gravel, with bituminous concrete pavement, and constructing a new accompanying paved sidewalk with lighted bollards and a black chain link fence. There are some drainage upgrades as well.
The cost of the entire project including engineering and construction is being paid by MaineDOT.
Special thanks to Resident Inspector Robert Clewley of Kleinfelder Construction Services, for the use of photos of construction activity; and to Kevin Stewart, Director of Operations, RDV Systems Inc., for the use of virtual tour rendering of completed downtown project.