Belfast considering $3.7 million Front Street reconstruction projectFederal grant could pay 50 percent of costs
Belfast — City officials began discussing whether they should move forward with submitting an application for federal funding to help pay for a multimillion dollar plan to rebuild Front Street.
The plans for the project, which City Planner Wayne Marshall stressed are conceptual at this time, call for realigning and reconstructing Front Street; replacing and/or upgrading water and sewer lines; drop crossing electrical lines; constructing on-street parking; installing new lighting; and constructing sidewalks.
In total, the project is estimated to cost about $3.7 million with half of the costs potentially being funded through a United States Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration grant, Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge told councilors Tuesday, Aug. 20.
City Manager Joseph Slocum commented that the city would be unlikely to qualify for the funds if Front Street Shipyard had not chosen to locate in Belfast. Kittredge said the potential for future growth at the shipyard and other businesses is what makes it eligible for federal funding.
Marshall noted in particular that growth at the shipyard could be limited by not doing the work on Front Street, citing issues shipyard personnel have had with moving large boats from their storage yard to their buildings because the road isn't wide enough or strong enough to handle heavy loads.
In addition to potentially receiving a federal grant to pay for half of the project costs, Kittredge said the Belfast Water District is considering kicking in $630,000 to pay for the upgrades or replacements to the lines along Front Street. He said the water district Board of Trustees are scheduled to meet Monday, Aug. 26, to discuss the matter.
That funding, combined with the federal grant, would mean the city would pick up the remaining balance of $1.2 million to complete the work, Kittredge estimated.
“That's a big price tag. I understand that,” Kittredge said to councilors.
Kittredge said the money to pay for the city's portion of the project could be taken from the Downtown Waterfront Tax Increment Financing fund.
Councilors Mike Hurley and Nancy Hamilton expressed an interest in seeing sidewalks extend along the length of Front Street because Hurley said the project should account for pedestrians, as well as businesses.
Hurley said he feels Front Street will be used more heavily by pedestrians if it is improved, especially during the winter when fewer people are on the Harbor Walk. He also stated that if the road is improved, it shouldn't be surprising if people begin driving at higher rates of speed.
He said that if the project doesn't include sidewalks along the length of Front Street, then the designs should take into account pedestrian use.
"I want to make sure pedestrians are included in this project," Hurley said.
Hamilton agreed and said sidewalks are being built all over the city on roads that are less traveled by pedestrians than Front Street.
Marshall responded by saying the conceptual plans call for sidewalks to extend as far as the wastewater treatment facility. Marshall said beyond the treatment plant, there are only a few residences and it is unlikely there would be much more development in that area.
"What you may have is, like you say today, is that if folks are down there most folks are walking in the street," Marshall said.
He then explained that because the plans for the reconstruction and enhancement of the road are purely conceptual at this time, construction most likely wouldn't begin any earlier then the spring of 2015. Marshall also noted that costs for the project could change, but the city is working with the best available estimate at this time for the cost of the work.
The application for the federal grant is due Friday, Sept. 13, and Kittredge said the council would need to make a decision about pursuing the funding by the beginning of the month.
Councilors are scheduled to further discuss the project during their Sept. 3 meeting.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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