While it will be at least a year before work begins in downtown, Maine Department of Transportation representatives recently hosted a meeting to gather feedback and listen to residents' concerns about the project.

Maine Department of Transportation Project Engineer Ernie Martin said he has heard a rash of rumors about the proposed work plan, ranging from converting downtown to a one-way street to connecting with Interstate 95 to building a terminal.

“None of those are true,” he said. “ … This is a blank plan hearing. … We're here for comments.”

Tim Higginson, with Louis Berger Group, said there are no plans for significant widening during the project, which will span Route 1 from Savage Road to Station Avenue. Sidewalks, however, will be widened to 5 feet in most areas, from the existing 3 to 3 1/2 feet. Higginson said there will be an overhaul of drainage as well as areas of rehabilitation, reconstruction and resurfacing of Route 1.

Martin said the project is fully funded and construction is expected to begin in spring 2018. He said it is most likely that traffic will be stopped in one direction at a time, creating up to 20-minute delays. Nighttime work — to reduce traffic delays — has not been ruled out, Martin said.

"There's a lot of variables out there we still haven't talked about yet," he said, later adding, "There's still a whole mess of outlying dinosaurs out there we haven't dug up yet."

Martin said if construction begins in spring 2018, the bulk of the work will be complete by the end of that year, with a few small items remaining into 2019.

A repeated concern was speed through the area. Martin said any request to reduce the speed would have to be made by the town but in many cases, he cautioned, the speed limit is set higher based on traffic flow.

About six months ago, in August 2015, town officials requested a traffic study of the speed limit from Savage Road to the Belfast line, citing numerous accidents in the 55 mph zone. The speed limit in that area has not been changed but DOT spokeswoman Nina Fisher previously said traffic study requests "may be in the queue for a while," perhaps six months or so.

Police Chief Dick LaHaye asked if accident reports would sway the traffic analysis and Martin encouraged him to submit those. The area of Tozier's Market is of particular concern, LaHaye said, with most accidents taking place when a driver exiting Tozier's attempts to turn left into Route 1.

"We all know speed signs need to be enforced," Martin said, adding sight lines are based on the posted speed limit. "It's a global process, what we go through."

The safety of pedestrians was raised as well as concerns about sidewalks meeting Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. Higginson said all of the new sidewalks will meet ADA requirements. Crosswalk locations and use of flashing lights to indicate pedestrians in the roadway may also be considered before the final plan in presented for public hearing in the fall, he said. Clearing of trees close to the road also should improve visibility for drivers and pedestrians, Martin said.

Maine DOT property officer Luther Yonce said little has been done regarding title checks and surveys of the properties involved along the route of construction. DOT is using town tax maps to determine approximate property lines at this time, he said, but will research further before the project begins. Yonce did not dismiss the possibility of taking property by eminent domain but said there is a multi-step process to follow. One resident expressed concern that communications would come from the town rather that DOT but Yonce said DOT would deal directly with property owners regarding easements or property purchases.

A stream running under the former Hamilton Maine seine loft will be rerouted, Martin said, as will highway water runoff in that area, which has long been a problem. Other than town work on water mains, Martin said he has not been contacted by any other entities, including those interested in installing a gas pipeline, about completing work at the same time as the Route 1 reconstruction.

"They have about seven months to let me know," he said.

There are several items that will not be funded by DOT but could take place at the same time as the road construction, including replacing water main pipes, relocating utilities, upgrading sidewalk surfaces to brick and sidewalk lighting.

Replacement of several areas of water main will be coordinated with the construction timeline. Martin said the water line project is expected to be included in the DOT bid package, which will save both the state and town some money.

The town will be responsible for burying utility lines if it chooses to do so. Town Manager James Gillway said relocating power lines to the rear of downtown buildings would not be an issue but negotiations with other utilities have yet to be completed.

"Sidewalk lighting is 100 percent on the town," Martin added.

If the town wishes for sidewalks to be brick — which is more in line with the historic character of downtown, Martin said — the cost difference between bituminous concrete and the bricks would fall to the town as well.