WESTBROOK — Transportation workers are putting the finishing touches this week on a $5 million project to improve William L. Clarke Drive, built in the 1960s as a bypass around the city’s downtown.

Crews today will start paving William L. Clarke Drive, a mile-long section of Route 25 between Westbrook Arterial and Saco Street, which has been under construction since May 2010. Commuters are being asked to avoid that road and cut through Main Street instead.

The project is meant to decongest the corridor, which carries an average of 23,000 cars per day. It’s a regional commuter route for people who live in towns west of Westbrook, namely Gorham and Standish, and who work in Portland or South Portland.

But unlike a typical bypass, William L. Clarke Drive is just a block away from Main Street – the road it’s meant to relieve – and runs between a densely populated residential neighborhood and the heart of the city.

Crossing the four-lane highway on foot had been a harrowing experience, said Janice Goodchild, who works at The Pension Service on Main Street in Westbrook. She said the landscaped median constructed this summer, complete with street lamps, has already made a difference.

“It gives you a place to park, so you don’t get hit by a car,” said Goodchild, who frequently crosses the corridor for chocolate chip cookies at The Baker’s Bench on the corner of Brackett Street.

“You don’t feel like you’re stuck in the middle of the highway,” she said about stopping at the new median.

New crossing signals that audibly say whether it’s safe to cross, a feature geared toward the visually-impaired, is another improvement for pedestrians.

For smoother traffic flow, left-turning lanes have been added at intersections with most of the side streets, so that a car waiting to take a left off the main drag doesn’t stop up the entire passing lane.

The six traffic lights also have left-turn arrows for cars turning from the side streets onto Route 25.

A reconfiguration of the intersection with Westbrook Arterial, near the Hannaford store, is meant to shorten the wait for cars turning left onto William L. Clarke Drive.

All of the traffic lights will be synchronized so that cars traveling the speed limit won’t hit more than one red light while traveling the corridor. That feature hasn’t been activated yet, but will be before Oct. 15, the scheduled completion date of the project, said John Mayol, who is overseeing the project for the Department of Transportation.

The reconstruction of William L. Clarke Drive was slated to begin around 2002 as part of a larger downtown revitalization effort paid for by funds collected through a tax-increment financing district.

The money raised through the TIF, however, didn’t meet projections, and the project had to be canceled, said City Administrator Jerre Bryant.

After that, the city worked with the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System and the state’s congressional delegation to secure state and federal funding for the project, drawing down the cost to Westbrook taxpayers to about $1 million.

Mayol said the final paving, which will smooth out the dozens of raised manholes, is scheduled to be completed this week, weather-permitting.

In the following weeks, portions of the side streets will be paved, as well, causing detours at different places throughout the day.

Bryant said the city will celebrate the completion of the project with a rededication ceremony in October. The road, originally called Wayside Drive, was later renamed for the late William L. Clarke, a longtime city clerk.

“It’s a huge project, and it’s 10-plus years in the making,” Bryant said.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at: [email protected]