Hike/bike path in Seal Harbor eyed 

MOUNT DESERT — Construction of an off-road bicycle and pedestrian path between Little Long Pond and Seal Harbor Beach could enhance safety and reduce the cost of proposed improvements to the three-mile-long Peabody Drive (Route 3) between Stanley Brook Road and Asticou Azalea Garden. 

And private funds might be available to pay for it. 

“It is our understanding that a private individual is interested in this concept,” Public Works Director Tony Smith said in a letter to other participants in an Oct. 20 meeting to discuss the Peabody Drive project. 

“Of particular interest is what such a cross-country route would do to greatly enhance roadway safety by relocating some of the hike-ped users away from the edge of the roadway and its inherent dangers. This could…reduce the need for extended shoulders along sections of (Peabody Drive).” 

The driving distance between Little Long Pond and Stanley Brook Road is 0.8 of a mile. 

In the fall of 2019, the town hired VHB Inc., an engineering and transportation design firm in South Portland, to determine the type and extent of work needed to improve Peabody Drive. The Maine Department of Transportation paid half the $89,257 cost of the VHB study through its Planning Partnership Initiative. 

The partnership agreement stated, “Peabody Drive currently suffers from unsafe and inconsistent or nonexistent paved shoulders, compromised sight lines and inconsistent roadway widths. 

“Peabody Drive raises safety concerns for cyclists and pedestrians and the steady summer vehicular traffic, creating hazardous conflicts for all modes of transportation.” 

Participating with Smith in the Oct. 20 meeting on the proposed road project were two MDOT officials, Mount Desert resident and avid cyclist Gordon Beck and Rodney Eason, CEO of the Land & Garden Preserve. The preserve owns the Little Long Pond property and Asticou Azalea Garden, as well as Thuya Garden and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden, access to both of which is off Peabody Drive. 

The estimated cost of the road improvements ranges from $6.4 million to $16.5 million. 

“The lower estimate considers widening only a portion of the length of the road to accommodate bike-pedestrian lanes,” Smith said.  

“The higher price includes…widening the entire length of the corridor for bike-ped lanes that would require extensive ledge removal. The higher price also includes replacing a very large stone retaining wall.” 

Smith said the town likely would have to share the cost of the road improvements with the Maine DOT. 

“Based on information available at this time, there might he private funding available to help with the costs to see the project come to fruition, particularly if hike-ped interests are included in it,” he said in his letter summarizing the Oct. 20 meeting.” 

In fact, he wrote, “Private individuals of the town have come forward and expressed a willingness to participate in the costs of the improvements.” 

Smith emphasized that any town funding for Peabody Drive improvements and related work would have to be endorsed by the Select Board and approved by voters at town meeting. 

“The work along the corridor would have to be completed in phases to reduce impact on the traveling public and the ‘neighborhood,’ including year-around residents and travelers. seasonal residents and travelers and short-term summer visitors,” Smith said. “There is no readily available alternate route between the two ends of (Peabody Drive) which might allow a portion of the roadway to be closed.” 

He said the challenge of scheduling the work in phases would be significant. 

“It is easy enough to divide it into phases, but the reality is the corridor is typically very heavily traveled between June and September,” he said. “If this summer is any indication, the high season has now extended from April to October.” 

Smith acknowledged that factors including cost and logistics make the proposed Peabody Drive improvements “a very challenging project.” 

However, he concluded, “With a demonstration of cooperation amongst all parties concerned, cost-share funding, and creative phasing and scheduling of the work, the improvements can be successfully completed.” 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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