AUBURN — The Park Avenue paving project sounds just wonderful. There will be sidewalks and wide shoulders to accommodate walkers, joggers and cyclists. Steep hills will be flattened and the road will be smoothed. It sounds like a 1-mile stretch of paradise.

Problem: Project managers want to get started in 2015. The people who live along Park Avenue, on the other hand, want it sooner rather than later.

“Presently, that road in several areas is unsafe, particularly in winter,” said Gene Keene who lives on Park Avenue and who normally does the bulk of his running and walking there. “This has been a tough winter for the road.”

Roughly five dozen people turned out to hear the latest details of the Park Avenue reconstruction. They filled a room at Auburn Hall and they described a stretch of road that’s not simply unpleasant to travel — it’s dangerous.

“It’s pitch-dark on the northern end,” said Toby Tiner, another resident. “There’s no shoulder there, nevermind sidewalks, and there are no lights. It’s unsafe.”

The road gets plenty of wear and tear, thanks to people seeking a back route to Walmart and tractor-trailers that come rumbling through. The Maine Department of Transportation says Park Avenue isn’t a high accident area, but some residents feel it’s a matter of time.

“It’s not just the potholes,” Keene said. “In the winter, it gets icy. My concern is that a car could hit that ice and slide right into the other lane.”

With more than a year before construction begins, residents feel the road could get much worse, particularly if next winter is as harsh as this one.

“I avoid that area now. It’s gotten so bad, I worry about damage to my car,” said an Auburn resident who lives near Park Avenue. “There are areas where you have to drive on the other side of the road because the bumps are so bad.”

Project planners at the meeting sympathized plenty. But the project is still being finalized, they said. There are permits to obtain and environmental matters, including things such as the well-being of bats, salmon and polliwogs around the construction site, to study. Not to mention final tweaks to the plans, the so-called “taming process.”

“This,” said Project Manager Paul MacDonald, pointing to a plan design that stretched almost all the way across an entire wall, “is only a draft. This is an evolving thing that we’re working on. We have a lot of hoops that we still have to jump through.”

The project is expected to start early next year. The work could take one construction season, or it could take a little more. In the meantime, MacDonald promised there would be more meetings. The next one is scheduled tentatively for June.

Not that the residents of Park Avenue showed up Thursday night without questions. They had plenty. One by one, they addressed project leaders, asking about drainage, utilities and whether trees felled during the project would be replaced.

MacDonald and Al Godfrey, a project manager with engineering company TMSI Consultants, answered the questions they could and promised to find answers for the ones they could not.

“We’ll get together again,” MacDonald told the group, “and we’ll have more information for you.”

The project calls for completely rebuilding the road base and repaving the road so that it has two 11½-foot-wide lanes, 5-foot shoulders and a sidewalk along the eastern side of the street. The MDOT will pay for the bulk of the $1.7 million project. 

Many who attended the meeting took vigorous notes on the proceedings. Some have lived on Park Avenue for decades; others were new to the area. They made suggestions and asked questions and MacDonald was nothing but delighted by the input.

“You people live in this area,” he said. “You walk there and drive there. There are a lot of things you know that we don’t know down in Augusta.”

There was no argument there. And while most of the residents resigned themselves to toughing out the potholes and darkness until 2015, a few wondered how much Park Avenue would deteriorate between now and then.

“It’s just going to get more unsafe,” Keene said, “as we go along.”


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