The Maine Department of Transportation’s plan to replace the Stillwater River bridges and improve the traffic corridor in that area will be lengthy, taking three years or more if current projections hold.

DOT officials discussed the project at a public forum at Old Town City Hall last week. They noted it had its roots back in 2014, starting as a bridge project only at the time, doing so because the bridges are nearing the end of their life expectancy.

But the following year. A traffic study was done, and the DOT soon realized improvements needed to be made to ease the bottleneck on Stillwater Avenue as well. A temporary fix was done on the bridge in 2016; information than was gathered, and the DOT mulled its options.

Those plans – which are still in their very early stages, and could be changed – call for work to be done over three-quarters of a mile of Stillwater Avenue, starting near the intersection with Bennoch Road and ending just shy of the Governor’s restaurant. In addition to replacing the bridges, the preliminary plan calls for lane widening to provide better shoulders on the road; improved traffic signals and detection at Stillwater Avenue’s intersections with Bennoch Road and College Avenue; closing the Stillwater Avenue end of Franklin Street; dedicated turn lanes, along with two lanes leading to the bridges; closure of some of the entrances to McDonald’s; and improving drainage on the bridges.

Plans call for work to begin next year, provided there is money in the state budget; unexpectedly high bids led the DOT to cancel several projects this year, and they acknowledged that could happen again. The estimated cost of the Stillwater Avenue project is $12.7 million.

The DOT said three houses will need to be removed in the project area. Temporary bridges will be built upstream of the current ones and include a pedestrian walkway; minimal delays are expected at this point, said the DOT, and whoever is hired to do the job probably will have to do some work at night to ensure two-way traffic is allowed when Stillwater Avenue is at its busiest during the day.

The project will be slowed at times, added DOT staff, due to restrictions when Atlantic salmon are migrating on the river. That will hinder, if not stop, work in April-June and November-December; as a result, the project probably will last three years, if not four, said the DOT.

City residents raised numerous concerns, such as the possibility of a weight limit on the bridges to keep truck traffic down; sidewalk locations; signage saying that Franklin Street would be a dead end; the use of Spring Street as a shortcut to Bennoch Road; and sidewalk locations. Some even wondered if the project would really improve traffic, saying it would just move the bottleneck down the road. DOT officials, however, said they believed the project would get traffic moving better, and that the intersection improvements should do away with much of the traffic problems on that section of Stillwater Avenue, which averages more than 16,000 vehicles a day.

The DOT said it would review comments made as it continues the planning process for the project.

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