TRAFFIC ON VINE STREET below the Bath viaduct as seen earlier this month. Vine Street and Leeman Highway have been the two chief detours for traffic coming through Bath.

TRAFFIC ON VINE STREET below the Bath viaduct as seen earlier this month. Vine Street and Leeman Highway have been the two chief detours for traffic coming through Bath.

BATH

With construction of the viaduct that connects Route 1 in Bath to the Sagadahoc Bridge complete, local businesses are looking back at the impact the project has had on their bottom line.

When construction began in October of last year, Route 1 traffic was largely diverted to Vine Street and Leeman Highway, which runs parallel to the viaduct. Cross traffic was relegated to Washington Street. That set up had remained in place all winter, sometimes causing 10- to 15-minute traffic delays and impacting businesses adjacent to the site.

 

 

According to City Manager

Bill Giroux, impacts like that are inevitable with any project.

“Whenever you run a major construction project there is an effect,” said Giroux.

Giroux was the city of Portland’s liaison for the Casco Bay Bridge project 20 years ago, and said that the philosophy Portland used for that project is the same one Bath is using today.

 

 

“We get out of the way and allow the contractor to run their job as fast as possible,” said Giroux. “You might have a lot of pain, but it’s for the shortest duration possible.

“Having this occur in the off-season for retailers and restaurant owners has been tough, but I think in the big picture the construction will be done and the viaduct will be operating when the tourists come back,” he continued. “Rather than doing it slow and trying to keep things operating, we shut things down and did it fast.”

Local business owners have had mixed reactions to the construction’s impact.

 

 

Mike Quigg, owner and operator of Beale Street Barbeque on Water Street in Bath, said that while the Maine Department of Transportation has been doing a great job, he “can’t say that it hasn’t effected” his business.

“For what it’s worth, though, this construction could have been a nightmare,” said Quigg. “It’s been run really efficiently. We had a good winter overall.”

Mike Keenan, president of the Local S6 machinist’s labor union — the largest union of workers at Bath Iron Works — said that the construction has been “a tough one” for BIW workers during their shift changes.

 

 

“Everyone understands that it needs to be done, but it lengthens the work day out a bit when workers have to wait in traffic,” said Keenan.

But Mike Fear, who owns Now You’re Cooking emporium in Bath, said there have been other negative factors besides the viaduct construction that have stood out to him.

“I’ve probably been one of the businesses that it has effected the least,” said Fear. “Our figures have been off a little bit, but I put that down to other factors.”

Fear believes that the hard winter coupled with the tumultuous political season has kept folks closer to home and caused them to “hold onto their dollars.”

“We had a slower summer last year, and I attribute that to the political climate, too,” said Fear.

But Fear said that his customer base is patient and loyal, and that the people that shopped there were going to come regardless of the traffic and detours caused by the viaduct construction.

“I found from my own getting around town that once I got into a rhythm, it was easy,” said Fear. “I’m very impressed with how all of the players — Reed and Reed, the DOT, the city of Bath — have pulled it all together.”

Jake Korb, executive director of Main Street Bath, even pointed to some benefits of the construction.

“There was some unexpected business for places like Bath Sweet Shoppe and businesses on Front Street because people used the detours,” said Korb. “People drive through and see stores that they’d never seen before, and they often stop and shop there.”

Korb also said that keeping the community informed of the construction and subsequent detours has been beneficial. Last fall, Main Street Bath released an educational video called “All Roads Downtown” to explain to the public that Bath is still open for business. Furthermore, Korb said he encouraged businesses to keep their customers updated on construction developments through social media posts.

With the completion of the viaduct project, Korb said that Bath is gearing up for a huge tourist season that should save any businesses who saw a downturn during the winter’s construction.

“The project looks like it’s going to end early, and while some businesses definitely felt pressed, we will get through this,” said Korb. “The physical improvement of the viaduct is going to be huge.”

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