Residents and business owners had an opportunity April 11 to ask questions and give feedback to Maine Department of Transportation Project Manager Ernie Martin about proposed improvements to Route 1, including the stretch through downtown Searsport.  

About 15 people attended the workshop in Union Hall, during which Martin introduced amenities to be added downtown, such as benches, tree grates, trash bins, roof drains and parking. And he talked extensively about sidewalks.

Referring to the planned Searsport rebuild project as "the last downtown rebuild we had in the schedule," he said he anticipates starting the two-year project in August 2020.

Martin noted that contractors currently are busy, "with a lot of development going on," but he did not specify whether that could impact the start of the Searsport project.

Town Manager James Gillway said other DOT projects have "slowed our schedule" and a similar rebuild in Hallowell was a "nightmare." He said he visited that city in the midst of construction and was sure businesses "took a hit that summer."

He said everyone will have to be a little patient during construction, adding, "We're going to move forward with this as fast as we can."

Martin said some on-street parking will "go away" in the center of town because there are certain guidelines Maine DOT must follow. He said Hallowell lost 12 parking spots in its downtown rebuild.

One resident pointed out, "We don't have 12 parking spots (in Searsport)."

Another resident asked how Maine DOT will protect historic buildings from damage during construction.

Martin said workers use heavy commercial ice shield between the sidewalks and the buildings and carry an insurance bond specifically for damages that might be incurred during construction.

The lighting fixtures, Martin said, will be LED and have to be "dark sky compliant," meaning the light points down to help reduce the amount of light pollution.

In the sidewalk discussion, Martin noted that "a lot of downtowns are going with bricks."

During sidewalk construction, a layer of cement with a 2-percent grade toward the street is installed first, he said, backfilled with crushed stone, and then embedded with bricks. He said there was a grading issue with a previous common sidewalk design, adding that those sidewalks were "not designed very well."

The portion of downtown deemed historic will have granite curbs, he said, and crosswalks would be painted "piano key white." There are other options as well, he said, including granite, which was used in Hallowell.

The Downtown Rebuild Committee provided information discussed in previous meetings, including the preferred locations of brick sidewalks — from Reservoir Street to Pike Avenue on the north side, and Water Street to Elm Street on the south.

Committee members felt the sidewalk should continue on the north side from Harbor Lights Square to Pike Avenue, crossing the bridge, and should extend to Silkweeds on the east end of town. Committee members expressed interest in improving the appearance of the bridge, as well.

The committee recommended tree grates, more benches, and upgrading trash bins and lighting on both sides of the street, the latter with a black post and traditional light. If there is to be green space at Bangor Savings Bank, the committee recommends a granite planter.

New sites for trees were discussed by the committee as well, including at or near the corner of Mosman Street, at 29 East Main St. near Elm Street, near Penobscot Marine Museum's open space and in front of Tozier's Market. One committee member researched trees and suggested Linden trees as the best option.

Residents at the meeting asked about a dedicated bike lane though downtown. Martin said the part of the road that becomes a designated bike lane also becomes "a non-pedestrian use area," which he said is not necessarily a good thing.

Speaking on roof drains, Martin said Maine DOT would require building owners' downspouts to tie into the drain system. The department is currently working with the water district "so we don't run into each other," he said.

The anticipated start to the two-year project, Martin said, will be in August 2020, with a projected completion date of the "later part of 2022."

After completion, Martin said, the downtown "will look amazing."  He pledged to "try to make this as painless as possible."