Rick Hudson envisioned a downtown Lisbon Street where he would be unable to sleep or entertain in peace as the project roared to life in May.
“I’m concerned about the evening construction,” said Hudson, who lives on Lisbon Street. “When you’ve got people out there jackhammering, that’s going to be a problem.”
Add it to the stack, Rick.
Although a meeting on the springtime project was low key and peaceful Thursday night, there were concerns. The people who live or do business on Lisbon Street worry that six months of construction will wreak havoc with their lives.
Engineer Ryan Barnes, who became the unofficial liaison between downtown residents and the people behind the project, sought to reassure them.
“This isn’t going to be six months of a contractor in one location,” Barnes said. “They’ll be moving throughout the area.”
But business owners Michael Dostie of Dostie Jewelers and Kevin Cunningham of Marche Kitchen and Wine Bar remained wary. Both men wondered if they would receive advance notice when construction was planned in front of their businesses on any given day — Cunningham is mulling the idea of timing renovations at his restaurant with the days when work will be heaviest in front of it. Dostie wondered if a liaison had been designated to help with communication.
That’s when Barnes stepped up, flashing his contact information on a screen behind him.
“Questions?” he said. “Comments? Call me.”
Barnes said people can also sign up for text alerts that will apprise them of the day-to-day work. That was easy enough.
The matter of aesthetics was not.
At a similar meeting Tuesday night, several people bemoaned the fact that little thought seemed to have been given in the planning process to how the final project would look.
It was the same on Thursday. With sidewalks being torn up, travel lanes eliminated and bike lanes added, the people who dwell on Lisbon Street would like it to be pleasing to the eye when completed.
“Aesthetics is a pretty big piece of the pie,” said Paul Landry, who lives in the planned renovation zone. “Is it going to look good? Is it going to be nice to look at? Is it going to attract people to the area?”
The answer wasn’t very satisfying. It’s a Department of Transportation project, after all, and the main priority has been more about functional need than curb appeal.
Which is exactly what Landry is concerned about. He remembers work that was done on Lisbon Street in the 1980s. It was not an attractive renovation and the city had to live with it for decades.
“Once we do this, it’s done and we’ve got to deal with it,” Landry said. “It seems prudent to pump the brakes a little bit and look ahead.”
Building owner Gabrielle Russell voiced the same concerns, as did Dostie and several others. They imagine this growing section of the city as “bland and industrial” because no one thought to address the matter.
But engineers Barnes and Richard Burnham advised the group that money was a large part of the issue. The funding just isn’t there for things meant to beautify the area.
There have been reports that City Administrator Ed Barrett was looking into ways to help fund a few extra amenities during the work project. Residents and business owners will now have to wait and see if Barrett can deliver.
There were other concerns. Monique Hanlon said she was worried about the bike lanes. After all, the same lanes on Pine Street have caused nothing but confusion — pedestrians walk in those lanes, motorists drive in them, but it is rare to see bicyclists using the lanes.
“Are we going to be educating people on how this is going to work?” Hanlon asked.
Barnes, admirably patient and prepared, said that in addition to news releases that will be circulated, signs will be posted and stripes painted to show bicyclists and motorists the ways.
Next up was the issue of parking. When Landry lamented the absence of a new parking system as part of the project, several others nodded in agreement. Unfortunately, there are no plans in the works to fix parking there. Instead, the city will post signs to advise visitors.
“A lot of people,” Barnes said, “don’t understand that our parking garages are, A: very convenient to Lisbon Street and, B: free.”
On Tuesday night, even more business owners showed up to discuss the $1 million preservation project, during which streets will be closed and long stretches milled down and resurfaced. Street signals and crosswalks will be upgraded and sidewalks will be replaced with concrete slabs. With work planned day and night between May and October, many predicted three seasons of hardship for new and old businesses alike.
Barnes said that when a contractor gets the bid for the job, he or she will be advised on the importance of accommodating businesses and working around their needs whenever feasible.
“We want to make this as smooth as possible for businesses,” Barnes said.
He displayed his contact information one more time to further cement his role.
How the Lisbon Street preservation project began
One of the recommendations in the final report of the Lewiston Downtown Neighborhood Circulation Study prepared by Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers for the city of Lewiston and the Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center in August 2013 was to drop the travel lanes on Lisbon Street from Chestnut to Main streets from two to a single travel lane.
The recommendation was based on the number of accidents along this stretch, particularly the high number of accidents involving parked cars or accidents while parking cars. The proposed lane reduction will provide a buffer between parked cars and moving traffic.
As part of that recommendation, engineers also recommended a combination of symbols and striping to establish a dedicated bicycle lane along the right side of Lisbon between Chestnut and Main streets.
That recommendation matches the city’s “Complete Streets Policy,” adopted in April 2013, requiring the city to consider accommodating “all users and modes of travel,” including pedestrians and cyclists, when planning and designing road construction projects.