Blackstrap Road is a heavily used commuter route on Falmouth’s west side. Poor road conditions have led the town to consider a nearly $7 million upgrade. Courtesy / T.Y. Lin International

FALMOUTH — The preferred option for fixing the “really bad conditions” on Blackstrap Road, a heavily used commuter route on the west side of town, could cost nearly $7 million.

While the majority of councilors said Feb. 3 that they’re in favor of the upgrades, Janice De Lima and Jay Trickett are concerned about the costs, even though the hope is that the Maine Department of Transportation would agree to pay half the project costs.

The roadwork would create a road 28 feet wide, including two 10.5-foot-wide travel lanes and two 3.5-foot-wide shoulders. The road is now about 22 feet wide, with no shoulders.

The council is scheduled to vote on whether to move forward with preliminary engineering for the roadway project at 7 p.m. March 23.

Many sections of Blackstrap Road are currently in poor condition as evidenced here. File

Earlier this month, Trickett called the Blackstrap fix a discretionary expenditure and said it’s something that “would be nice to have,” while noting that Falmouth has a number of other roads that need attention and many of those are in more populated areas.

De Lima said Feb. 3 she wants to see something done on Blackstrap, but preferred a cheaper option that would eliminate the proposed 3.5-foot-wide shoulders. Leaving the road essentially as is would cost about $3.7 million, according to Tom Errico, an engineering consultant from T.Y. Lin International in Falmouth.

Errico said the difference in cost between the option advocated by De Lima and the $7 million project supported by the majority of councilors is based on the additional road width and said there’s a direct correlation between adding pavement and cost.

The 3.5-foot-wide shoulders, he said, would not meet current state regulations for an official bicycle lane, but would still be a significant improvement to what’s out there now.

The primary emphasis for roadway improvement, Errico said, would be the approximately 4 miles of roadway owned by the state. Those sections of Blackstrap run between the Cumberland town line and Babbidge Road and then from Mountain Road to “a little past Hardy Road,” he said. The town owns the rest.

In materials provided to the council Feb. 3, Blackstrap Road is described as being a “predominantly rural road characterized by narrow shoulders, winding curves, and areas of poor pavement condition.” In all, the road runs for 6.3 miles.

Earlier this month Town Manager Nathan Poore said the town is taking on the Blackstrap Road project because while its condition is of high value to Falmouth, it’s not a high priority for MDOT and the road would likely never be significantly improved unless the town pushes the project forward. That’s why, he said, the town is seeking a partnership with the state to get the roadwork done.

He said Falmouth has entered into similar agreements for other road projects, including the ongoing $10.5 infrastructure improvement project on Route 100 and the changes made to Route 1 several years ago.

Theo Holtwijk, the town’s director of long-range planning and economic development, said the nearly $7 million option to fix Blackstrap Road is “the most reasonable,” but also said the funding required “is a huge nut to crack.”

Errico agreed, saying, “(W)e’re looking at the most balanced approach in terms of costs.”

Errico also said the state would be unlikely to fund a project that didn’t include paved shoulders, which would mean the whole of the estimated $3.7 million for that option would fall on the town.

Under the town charter any capital expenditure over $2 million requires voter approval through a referendum. In attempting to calculate the tax impact of the nearly $7 million roadwork option, Holtwijk told councilors it would likely add 11 cents per $1,000 of valuation, which would equal about $44 a year on a home valued at $400,000.

If the council decides to move forward, he said, a referendum likely wouldn’t take place until 2021 and construction likely wouldn’t start until 2024 or later.

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