2015-12-04 / Front Page

Residents air road worries

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Sometime this month, Town Manager Barry Tibbetts will release a list of all roads in town, ranking them in order from best to worst.

But a group of residents who showed up at the Nov. 24 selectmen’s meeting didn’t need to wait; they already know which road is the worst – because they live on it, they say.

However, it remains to be seen what impact, if any, their protests will have on what promises to be a protracted discussion on the cost of maintaining town roads, come budget season.

The group gathered at last week’s board meeting included most of the 30 residents of Woodhaven Drive who signed a Nov. 9 email to the town manager, complaining about the condition of their road, and asking for help to address the many drivers who use it as a high-speed shortcut to Route 1 from Route 35 – a trick used by many to bypass the downtown area.

But it’s not just commuters distracted by cellphones and breakfast-on-the-go who pose a danger, the residents say. Because one halfmile stretch of the road is long and flat, it’s become a magnet for teen drivers, they claim.

“I have seen numerous drag races occur on the street,” said Sean Ferrick, who’s lived on Woodhaven Drive for nearly five years.

“I’ve seen people go so fast that when I call the police, I can’t even tell them what color the car is, never mind the license plate number. It is very, very unsafe.”

“What is most important to me is the safety of the kids,” agreed Colby Compton, a 10-year resident of the street.

Because Woodhaven Drive is within two miles of Kennebunk High School, it is not serviced by school buses. Yet the street, built in the 1970s, has no sidewalks, Compton noted.

“In the winter, there’s no place for them to go,” said Compton, conjuring up the image of cars careening into students on their way to and from school.

“We are very concerned with the safety of our children, the many students that walk to school, and the large number of pedestrians that use the road daily for exercise,” the Nov. 9 email reads.

Since that message was delivered, Kennebunk police have beefed up patrols in the area, and an electronic sign warning drivers of their speed was hauled into place.

The residents say they are thankful for that attention, but doubt its long-term effectiveness, given that the police department can hardly post a cruiser on the their road around the clock.

The Nov. 9 email asked for the installation of speed bumps, as well as a stop sign at the intersection of Woodhaven Drive and Rosewood Circle.

“Drivers rarely even slow down for that turn,” Ferrick said, “When out walking our dog, we’ve often had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit.”

In addition to the speed of cars on the road, the residents raised an alarm over the condition of the road itself.

“It’s falling apart,” Ferrick said.

Many selectmen said they have witnessed speeding on the road. Its status as “one of the worst roads in town,” also was unquestioned.

“I don’t think anyone on this board could agree with you more. It’s a terrible road,” Selectman Ed Karytko said.

“I don’t understand how anyone can go faster than 25 [miles per hour] with all the potholes,” Selectman Deborah Beal said.

Beal said she’d favor installation of a stop sign and, while he did not promise one, Tibbetts said it would be a “fairly inexpensive,” short-term solution.

However, residents question what might happen in the long run, if and when the road is resurfaced.

“We are afraid if the drainage and road conditions are fixed on Woodhaven Drive, without our safety concerns addressed, we could be seeing some new speed records set on the ‘drag strip,’ ” the residents wrote in their email.

But just when that work might get done remains an open question. According to Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder, the road needs to be completely rebuilt, not merely repaved.

“We need to re-profile the road to get rid of that water,” he said, noting that, as residents pointed out, poor drainage has been a longstanding problem in the area.

“You’d have to dig the road up anyway, just to get out the boulders that are pushing their way up through,” Selectman Richard Morin joked.

Osterrieder said he began taking a close look at Woodhaven Drive two years ago, and already has preliminary drawings for a rebuild complete. There is room within the existing right-of-way to add a sidewalk, he said, although it would have to be built on top of the side ditches, which would have to be enclosed in an underground drainage system.

At a minimum, Osterrieder said it would cost $500,000 to rebuild the road, plus $150,000 to add a sidewalk. However, it would make little sense to create a sidewalk on Woodhaven Drive without extending it to Colonial Drive and Fletcher Street (Route 35) all the way to the high school, he said. And, while some money might be saved by “piggy-backing” that work onto the upcoming high school renovation project, the total cost is expected to top $800,000.

“I would say the conversation starts there. It could go up,” Osterrieder said. “It is a long road. It’s very expensive. It’s a huge commitment by the town.”

“We spent that last year on [road repairs for] the whole town,” Selectman Christopher Cluff said, expressing doubt the entire project would get funding in the upcoming budget.

In what seemed a preview of what’s to come when selectmen begin meeting with the town’s volunteer budget board early in the new year, selectmen split over how to address the issue while inflicting minimum pain on local taxpayers.

“I believe we should be putting money into the roads. There are all these projects I would like to see done tomorrow,” Karytko said, ticking off a list of streets in similar straights to Woodhaven Drive.

Karytko said the town has continued to fall behind on road repairs, and he’d favor making steep cuts to next year’s budget in other areas, in order to funnel that money into roadwork and play catch-up.

But Chairman Kevin Donovan adopted an opposing view. Although he agreed the town has let the overall condition of its roads slip, and that repairs need to be a top priority in the upcoming budget, “I’m not willing to cut anything else to get it,” he said.

“In my opinion, it’s going to be in-addition-to, and it’s going to be very, very expensive. But I think it has to be done,” Donovan said.

Although Donovan tried to argue the investment would come back to taxpayers in the form of increased property values, Karytko said that’s a check that can’t be cashed when the tax bill comes due, not unless residents are willing to sell and move out of town. Additionally, higher property values could serve to shift a higher proportion of the overall tax burden in town to those homeowners.

“There is only so much the taxpayers in this town are going to be able to take,” Karytko said. “If your taxes are going to go up another $2 to $3 per $1,000 [of assessed value], I don’t now how happy you’re going to be.”

Still, Donovan said, because Kennebunk retains a traditional selectboard form of government, rather than a town council, the final say on spending will fall to voters come next June.

“I think the majority has to speak load and clear,” he said. “Politicians don’t want to address it because it’s expensive, but it’s up to you.”

And with that, Donovan put in a plea to residents, asking them to participate in the upcoming budget deliberations.

“Please get involved,” he said. “We have all these hearings and nobody likes to sit thought them, believe me – including us – but they’re very important. And yet, people don’t show. Please come.”

“You don’t have to say yes to the budget just because it’s presented for a vote,” Morin agreed. “You can pick it apart beforehand. You can provide input and give us some direction.”

Tibbetts said a road priority list is complete and will be presented to the board of selectmen in December. Woodhaven Drive is in the “worst category,” he said, but how much of it, if any, makes the final cut for work in 2016 will depend on budget talks set to begin in January.

Still, the odds of it rising to the top of the list appear to be a safe bet. The only question is whether it will get banged out in a single construction season, possibly forestalling all other work until 2017, at the earliest, or get spread out over three to five years in order to include other projects next summer.

“We’ve heard you loud and clear, this has not been put on a back burner,” Donovan told the collected residents in the audience. “The squeaky wheel does get the oil at the end of the budget season, believe me.”

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