Crews Work Gingerly Around Trees During ME Route 1 Job

Thu June 16, 2005 - Northeast Edition
Kip Fry

The construction project on Route 1 in Camden, ME, should have been a relatively simple one, but it has turned into something much more controversial and costly than was originally expected. In fact, it has become such a point of contention that the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) has hired consultants to design a Web site explaining all the different facets of the project.

To begin with, 1.7 mi. (2.72 km) of Route 1 going through the historic part of Camden have been slated for reconstruction. After years of wear and tear, the scenic highway that follows the coast of Maine needs to be torn apart and rebuilt. It shouldn’t be too surprising; as many as 12,000 vehicles a day travel the highway through town.

Simultaneously, underground utilities along the course of the road are being upgraded. To do so, 60 power poles were removed this past fall.

The problem is that the road is lined with many long-standing trees and some residents are concerned that they will be damaged and killed. In fact, a group has been formed to help protect the trees. Although two or three have had to be removed, members of the group have been working closely with the MaineDOT to ensure that the remaining trees will endure as little damage to their roots as possible.

MaineDOT Engineer Steve Hall said he was nervous when the $7-million project began this past fall because other jobs in which he has been involved attracted protesters who illegally climbed trees slated to be cut down. In that case, police physically removed the protesters.

However, this was not a problem in Camden. They still protested, but did so at a safe distance and did not interfere with the work, Hall said.

The stretch of road will actually be narrowed, something seldom done by construction crews. What has been a 12-ft. (3.6 m) wide travel lane with 8-ft. (2.4 m) shoulders will be done with 11-ft. (3.3 m) lanes and 4-ft. (1.2 m) shoulders, according to Hall.

“The citizen committee wanted more calming features. They wanted a small town look,” said Hall. The feeling is that a slightly narrower road will slow traffic through the part of town that most needs it.

“Years ago it was unusual, but now it is more common,” said Eric Ritchie, job engineer of Lane Construction of Meriden, CT, the primary contractor for the job. “It might slow traffic up a little bit.”

The committee also has expressed its concerns about the historic canopy of trees that shades the highway. Every tree along the road has been counted and documented to ensure that they won’t be damaged in the process. The citizens are concerned that any of the work on the drainage on both sides of the road could hurt the roots of the trees and eventually kill them.

“We walked through the project with the protesters and the tree warden will determine what will happen to each tree,” Hall said. As a result, there will be a constant give and take between both groups.

Other residents have recently voiced a different concern. They believe that the historic value of a number of old houses along the road may be lowered if the utility cables are attached to the new poles that have been installed, according to Hall. They think they should all be placed underground. However, it may be too late in the process for anything to be done about that.

The entire section of highway will be reconstructed, although work on the shoulders will go deeper. Shoulders will need 26 in. (66 cm) of gravel because they were not adequately built to begin with.

The majority of the travel lanes will require only new pavement. The old surface will be chopped up and recycled with a special machine.

“It’s like a gigantic Roto-tiller,” said Ritchie about the machine. “It has a drum with teeth that go one to two inches deep. The product looks like gravel. We compact it, then put new stuff on top. It is very good material. Taking the old pavement will save money for the state.”

The old pavement will be used underneath the new material that will be added on the top. An additional 6 in. (15.2 cm) will then be put on top. The recycling will be done the entire length of the project. A 990 ft. (300 m) stretch of road at the southern end of the work will require deeper reconstruction. The existing concrete pavement will be removed and a full-depth subgrade added in that section.

Much of the work is scheduled to be finished by the end of June, when the project will be halted temporarily because of the heavy tourist traffic that always inundates the coast during that season. Off-road work, however, will continue during that time. That will include construction on an underdrain and water and sewer lines, the work that is causing most of the controversy. The only section that will not be completed by then is a small length in the middle of the project that will be done in the fall.

The road will undergo one slight shift in course, according to Ritchie, so some excavating and blasting will be required along one short edge of the road.

A granite curb and new sidewalk will be built along the road clear to Camden Hills State Park at the end of the project. This will allow people to walk from downtown Camden to the park and back along a safe walkway, something that has not been possible in the past.

Subcontractors on the project include Sargent and Sargent, Stillwater, ME, paving; and Maine Tree and Landscape, Bangor, ME, tree work. Equipment includes Volvo loaders, Caterpillar excavators, Ingersoll-Rand rollers and Blaw-Knox pavers.

Work is officially scheduled to finish by spring 2006, but the contractors have said they think it can be completed by the end of this year. “They’ve got a lot of work to do. They have only 20 percent of the drainage work done,” said Hall. CEG