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November 7, 2018

Belgrade Lakes' long-awaited road project in full swing

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Road reconstruction at the south end of Belgrade Village Main Street has been going on for two months, making business a challenge for baker Hello Good Pie, but once winter paving is done, will move farther north.

The 40 miles of Route 27 from Augusta to Farmington, one of the main routes to Franklin County and the Sugarloaf area, has been widened and rebuilt over the past decades.

All of it, that is, except the half-mile through Belgrade Lakes Village.

The $3.125 million upgrade to that half-mile, the first in 50 years, is finally happening after a delay until after Labor Day to minimize the impact on village businesses, many of which close once summer is over.

But those businesses that don't close are feeling the impact of construction disruption and delays on the two-lane road that travels over the thin strip of land between Great and Long ponds.

After years of resistance from the town, Belgrade selectmen initially approved the project in 2016, and gave final approval in February.

A group of town business owners formed Friends of Belgrade Lakes Village, which raised money to enhance what Days Store owner Diane Oliver said was going to be "a sea of asphalt."

The group has raised $725,000, including a $300,000 matching challenge grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation, the Acorn Foundation (the private charitable foundation of Ted and Barbara Alfond), the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation and the Peter Alfond Foundation.

The money will pay for brick sidewalks, pedestrian lighting, benches, bike racks and, ideally, a parking lot with a comfort station. Donors may sponsor a bench or light pole.

But that work won't be done until the road is finished, which won't be until next year, and Oliver said the goal is to have it all done by this time next year.

Disrupted fall season

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Reconstruction of Main Street has been focused on the south end of the half-mile stretch, but is moving north this week.

Meanwhile, year-round businesses are gritting their teeth.

"The construction has definitely broke our stride going into the fall season," said Shari Hamilton, owner of Hello Good Pie, at the south end of the construction.

The bakery draws customers from around the region, many of whom normally pull up on the shoulder of the road out front. That's been impossible, for the most part.

While the entire stretch through the village is now one-lane alternating traffic over under-construction roadway, the major part of the work is moving to the northern half of project in coming weeks.

"They should be repaving in front of our shop this week and will move down the street, at last!" Hamilton said.

When the state agreed to put off the work until after Labor Day — losing the "construction season" summer months, the agreement also including beginning at 7 a.m. and on some days going until dark.

Work so far has including improving drainage on the southern half, widening the road and regrading it. The contractor is Pratt & Sons. Inc. of Mechanic Falls.

The state hopes to get the entire stretch paved with a base coat for winter traffic on the entire stretch this fall, then do as much as it can to complete the roadway work before the weather makes it impossible. The work will be taken back up in April, and when the road is finished, sidewalks, lampposts and other enhancements the business group has raised money for will be added.

"As construction has begun we are hopeful the end result will be something we can all be thankful for," Oliver, one of the founders of Friends of Belgrade Village, said.

Off-street parking and more

On-street parking has never been legal on the narrow road, but without many other options, that hasn't been enforced.

One of the big projects for the business group is an off-street village parking lot with a comfort station, something it's still raising money, and weighing location options, for.

"It is very important to us that the village remain quaint, vibrant, and viable, and having an option for parking and a comfort station will be an important part of the village infrastructure," she said this week. "We are thankful and appreciative to the Alfond Foundations for their foresight and support of the Friends vision for improvements to the road construction. Their challenge grants allowed us to make sure the updates of brick sidewalks and pedestrian lightning is included in the project."

Oliver said, so far, the work hasn't hurt business at the northern end of the strip.

"From a business perspective from Day's Store, I think the fall has been good," she said. "The weather was good and the fall colors were good and there seemed to be a lot of people around."

In recent weeks, the construction and digging has moved to that end of the road "and business may get a little more challenging," she said.

"The construction crews have been leaving the roadway very passable for weekends, which helps business," she added. "In general we're trying to get through it the best we can and are anxious for the final result."

Half a mile south, Hamilton echoed that.

"We feel it will be worth the discomfort when the project is completed," she said.

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