Driving along the River Road between the Westbrook city line and Depot Road in Windham will become more difficult Monday as crews begin the first phase of a multimillion-dollar road reconstruction project that will take about two years to finish.

The Maine Department of Transportation and Shaw Brothers Construction, the Gorham firm that was awarded the $6.7 million contract, confirmed Sunday evening that a section of the two-lane River Road near its intersection with Anderson Road will be excavated and reduced to one lane of traffic starting on Monday. A temporary traffic light tower was moved to the intersection over the weekend.

Jon Shaw, one of the co-owners of Shaw Brothers, said a team of archaeologists will begin searching this week beneath the road for the remains of a historic fort.

Fort Province was built in 1744 by the Province of Massachusetts as a refuge for local residents from potential Indian attacks. The fort was surrounded by a stockade and the historic Parson Smith House was built near the fort in 1764, according to documents provided to Maine DOT – in support of the road project – by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

The Parson Smith House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The road project would also affect the Maplewood Farm/Anderson Lord House on River Road because a granite block wall would need to be relocated and reset to accommodate construction, according to the commission.

“Archaeologists identified a deposit of brick, charcoal and ash indicating the possible location of a hearth associated with the fort. The investigation (conducted in 1982) also predicted that a large portion of the fort lies below River Road,” the commission wrote.

Shaw said he does not know how long the archaeological survey will last, but crews are also scheduled to begin clearing trees as the project gets underway. Shaw Brothers was awarded the contract on June 14. The project includes the replacement of the Colley Wright Brook Bridge, which is near the Maine Correctional Center.

In the coming months, crews will begin relocating utilities and installing drainage systems along River Road before the actual road construction work can begin next spring, said Paul Merrill, spokesman for the Maine DOT.

Merrill said that River Road, starting at the Westbrook city line and ending at Chute and Depot roads, will be widened and resurfaced. Just over 3 miles of River Road will be rehabilitated.

Shaw Brothers will have until June 2021 to complete the project. River Road, which passes by the Maine Correctional Center in South Windham, has been in dire need of repairs for years. It is riddled with potholes,  crumbling pavement and long stretches of uneven surfaces. Merrill said repairing River Road is one of the state’s top priorities.

“There are going to be traffic impacts,” Merrill said of the pending road reconstruction. “We are asking everyone to be patient and to be careful.”

Reconstruction of the heavily traveled road has been on the minds of Windham residents and town officials for several years. At a hearing in 2017, residents expressed concerns that widening and flattening the rough roadway would increase motorists’ speed.

Windham police told residents that improving the road would make it much safer and more practical for the department to patrol and enforce the speed limit.

About 80 percent of the project costs will come from federal highway money.


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