Mason St. sidewalk rolls out in June
Work on the long-awaited Mason Street sidewalk is scheduled to begin June 1 and be completed by June 25.
The new sidewalk will be 1,600 feet long and will run along the north (Bethel Historical Society) Mason Street to Crescent Street, where there will be a crosswalk, and the sidewalk will then continue uphill to Crescent Park School.
The sidewalk will be bituminous, from 4 to 5 feet wide, with granite curbs, according to Dan Ward, general superintendent for Pratt & Sons, of Minot, contractor for the project.
Funding for the sidewalk was provided by a $96,460 grant from the Safe Routes to School program.
The grant was awarded three years ago, but with many specifics regarding the sidewalk (for example, which side of Mason Street it would run on, and what impact, if any, it would have on parking or traffic direction) still undetermined.
There followed two public hearings on the project, then a short-lived citizens' “Sidewalk Committee,” which was unable to come to a consensus agreement on those details.
At the same time concerns were also being raised about the long-term costs, including maintenance and snow removal, of the sidewalk to the town.
In August of 2008, the Board of Selectmen threw in the towel and agreed to pay (from the grant) a traffic engineer to develop a plan.
The vote, however, which could have in effect killed the project, was close. Selectmen Jack Cross and Dennis Doyon voted against the engineering study, but Don Bennett, Bob Everett and Board Chairman Stan Howe endorsed the plan.
Howe noted at the time that simply being able to walk about was a major attraction of historic towns, “and our sidewalks are not adequate at all. They’re the worst sidewalks around, and we need to spend money on sidewalks and we need to make them safe.”
Bethel Town Manager Jim Doar told the selectmen Monday that Pratt & Son might even be able to start work on the new sidewalk before June 1, “depending on how another job they're on works out.”
Sunday River Road project moves ahead.
The selectmen Monday endorsed another, more expensive, paving project that has been in the works for some time, rebuilding of Bethel's section of the Sunday River Road.
They voted unanimously to sign a Rural Roads Initiative Agreement with the state, which calls for spending $600,000 to rebuild that 1.38-mile section.
But some uncertainties about the project remain.
The RRI agreement calls for the state to contribute $400,000 of the overall cost, and the town the $200,000 balance.
But to date the town has appropriated only $150,000 for the work.
Doar told the selectmen Monday that the town's plan is to raise the balance in two $25,000 budget allocations over the next two years.
But that assumes Town Meeting voters will agree.
“There's a little bit of risk if the people don't appropriate that $25,000 to give us the full $200,000 in FY 12,” Doar said.
And it is also uncertain if even the full $600,000 will pay for rebuilding the entire 1.38-mile stretch, the town manager said, and $600,000 is the maximum amount available through the RRI program for Maine.
“The reality is they're going to go until the money runs out,” Doar said. “Once they reach the $600,000 they're done. They're just going to stop.”
The Newry Board of Selectmen also met Monday, and expressed their own concern about Bethel' section of the road.
They said the unevenness of the road surface is a safety worry, because it has the potential to cause drivers to lose control.