The citizens’ advisory committee on the rebuild of Route 3 voted unanimously last week to endorse the project as currently designed.
Meeting over several years with the Main Department of Transportation (MDOT), that group of volunteers has brought real-world common sense to a process often dominated by engineering calculus and standard design criteria.
Rebuilding several miles of a busy highway is an extraordinary undertaking. If allowed, the design process could go on ad infinitum as various groups and interests dither over increasingly finer detail.
The committee’s vote allows state officials to prepare bid specifications and cost estimates so the work can begin next fall. That does not suggest, however, that nothing about the design can be changed. Many of the details, still in flux, involve aesthetic items traditionally addressed towards the end of process.
For example, some concerns have been raised about multiple stone walls that line the section of Eden Street closest to downtown. Some of those walls are all that remain of historic properties where the homes were destroyed long ago. Other sections contain relatively recent incarnations or unremarkable ramparts of cinderblock and concrete. While the emotional response might be to preserve every stone, the reality is that doing so would make it impossible to construct a sufficiently wide modern road with proper sidewalks and safe shoulders for bicycling.
Not everything old is historic. Were that case, little beyond the original dirt wagon path into town could be justified.
But perhaps the issue of stone walls is emblematic of a larger concern – that the reconstruction of the primary route into Bar Harbor may result in that road looking like any street found in the vicinity of the average shopping mall.
No one wants that. The character of island roads always has been important. When the MDOT rebuilt a section of lower Main Street in Bar Harbor some years ago, citizen reaction to the original design was less than supportive. Thanks to public insistence, the state agreed to replace more than 100 trees along the sidewalk there, preserving a pleasant path for walkers.
Similarly, when another section of Route 3 was slated for work some years later, citizens worked to minimize the width of the road and scale back the removal of vegetation on either side.
The challenge, then, is for the MDOT to find a way to address the public’s current concerns.
It is not so much that specific stone walls should be saved or removed. What matters is the preservation of the character and feel of a stately, tree-lined road into town.