Sidewalk process slogged by state

SOUTHWEST HARBOR Progress on what has become a million-dollar sidewalk reconstruction at the south end of Main Street seems slow, at best, and town officials are frustrated. 

“We’re getting further away from getting ready to go every time the state looks at it,” Town Manager Justin VanDongen told selectmen at their Oct. 13 meeting in an update on the project. “The state is not satisfied with the steepness of some of the driveways. They’re being unusually difficult in approving the work that has been engineered for the sidewalk to go in.” 

Earlier this month, VanDongen met with state officials and the engineer of the 1,500-foot Main Street sidewalk reconstruction project to assess progress. He told the Board of Selectmen that he still expected bids for construction of the 5-foot wide sidewalk with a 5-foot wide shoulder would go out this November.  

In 2017, the town was awarded $498,500 in grant funds for reconstruction of a section of the Main Street sidewalk from Apple Lane to Village at Oceans End. When the grant was awarded, the project was estimated to cost about $840,000, with an approximate contribution from the town of $343,000. VanDongen told members of the board that taxpayers have approved $860,000 and the grant money for the state is about $400,000.  

“I got a bad feeling if this ever does go in the next 18 months or so, we’re going to have to go back to the taxpayers for more money,” Selectman George Jellison said at the recent  meeting. “People want it done.” 

In his last update to members of the board during the summer, VanDongen seemed a bit more understanding with the process of expanding the right of way that the Maine Department of Transportation has to undergo to acquire permission from property owners along the stretch of Main Street where the sidewalk will go. At that time, he didn’t think COVID was affecting the state’s progress. He felt differently at the Oct. 13 meeting. 

“The state is using COVID to drag this process out,” said VanDongen. “I think it would have been done faster, cheaper and easier if we’d done it without the state and federal money.”  

When Routes 102 and 102A were paved at the beginning of the summer by the MDOT, the section where the sidewalk is slated to go was purposefully skipped over in anticipation of the sidewalk construction. Selectman Allen ‘Snap’ Willey said residents in that area are not happy.  

“That road’s in very bad shape,” he added.  

“It’s going to get a lot worse this winter,” Public Works Foreman Scott Alley said.  

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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