The Maine Department of Transportation replaced the rusty chain-link fence that separated the northbound and southbound lanes of Leeman Highway with a 4-foot concrete wall. Bath officials negotiated to add texture to the otherwise smooth median for $109,000 to make it more visually appealing. Photo courtesy of Paul Merrill

BATH — The Maine Department of Transportation has freed Bath from one of its biggest eyesores, but city officials aren’t thrilled with the nearly $1.5 million solution.

The MDOT replaced the rusty chain-link fence that divided the northbound and southbound lanes of Leeman Highway with a concrete median last week.

“The department wanted to enhance vehicular safety between the northbound and southbound sides, which is why we replaced the fence with a concrete barrier,” said Paul Merrill, public information officer at MDOT.

The new wall stands just over 4 feet tall and stretches just over half a mile, according to Merrill.

While some in the city are relieved to have the chain-link fence removed, city officials are less excited about the new median.

Peter Owen, Bath’s city manager, said the city made plans for a more attractive wrought iron fence to replace the chain-link fence about 15 years ago and gave them to MDOT. Enough time passed and staff turned over between Bath developing its plan for the fence and the MDOT launching construction that the plans were lost and forgotten.

City officials didn’t know the fence was going to be replaced with a concrete wall until after MDOT ironed out plans, hired a contractor and purchased the material, according to Owen.

When the plans for the wall couldn’t be changed, Merrill said the city negotiated last August to add texture to the wall in hopes of making it more aesthetic. MDOT originally planned to make the median a smooth concrete wall, and the city was required to pay a portion of the wall’s added decoration.

“I saw this as the time to make some noise to get something different done because that wall will last at least 100 years,” said Owen. “It was important to me to at least try to get something done even though the average person won’t care.”

In total, the new median cost $1,448,000. The visual enhancement cost $218,000, which MDOT agreed to split with the city: $109,000 each.

“It’s supposed to look like a crib stone wall, which it doesn’t, but it’s better than just a plain concrete wall,” said Owen. “It’s not ideal, but the purpose of the wall is discouraging someone from crossing the road.”

That stretch of Leeman Highway is lined with gas stations and fast food restaurants on either side as well as exits that lead to neighborhoods, a hotel and shopping centers with Shaw’s grocery store and CVS pharmacy.

Owen said Bath asked the MDOT to install the chain-link fence after a pedestrian was hit by a car while crossing the highway about 30 years ago.

There have been no accidents caused by pedestrians crossing Route 1 in the past six years, according to Michael Field, Bath’s chief of police.

Mari Eosco, Bath city council chairwoman, said she’s satisfied with the stone median because it’s a more visually appealing introduction to Bath when entering the city from Leeman Highway.

“It’s the first thing people see when they come into Bath,” said Eosco. “(Chain-link fences) serve a utilitarian purpose, but not one that exudes beauty. It’s hard to believe how beautiful the city is when you drive through that part.”

Although the concrete median isn’t the city’s first choice, Eosco said “it’s a huge improvement.”

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