Delayed one day because of rain, the Hampstead Main Street revitalization project finally began on Wednesday.
The revitalization project will add sidewalks, pedestrian lighting, accessibility ramps, crosswalks and better stormwater management, among other improvements, to Hampstead's Main Street, or Md. 30, from North Woods Trail north to the CSX railroad intersection.
Officially a project of the Maryland State High Administration, Main Street will be turned over to the town at the completion of the project in 2020, if all goes well.
This is a new construction project, not to be confused with the now completed water main replacement project that began in summer 2015, but a new project long planned, according to Mayor Chris Nevin.
"The project has been in our long-term vision for 20 years. Get the bypass built first and then Main Street would be redone," he said. "We know when it's complete it's going to enhance our downtown, it's going to give it a distinctive character and I think it will have widespread appeal."
Road work will begin at the southern end of Hampstead, at North Woods Trail, and work northward in six segments. The hope, Nevin said, will be to do the work with two-way flagging operations, rather than making any portion of the road one-way for a long period of time.
"We are going to start out with flagging and see how it goes. The project could move quicker under flagging and the less time that is involved in the total project the better," he said. "If at some point we determine that's not working and we have 20 vehicles backed up in each direction and that kind of stuff — it's subject to future evaluation."
That flagging operation is good news to Eric Cellitto, owner of Main Street Liquors and Deli, who has been worried about the revitalization project since the beginning.
"They originally wanted to make Main Street one way, for three years, in two sections," he said. "That was SHA's first solution to this problem and then we fought it."
Cellitto was pleased to hear that local contractor CJ Miller had been awarded the SHA contract for the project and would be conducting the flagging operations.
"I'm glad CJ really looked at the project and had the town's best interest in their planning," Cellitto said. "If they can pull that off, they will definitely be heroes for Hampstead."
Nevin also praised CJ Miller and noted the contractor's plan to use flagging rather than one-way traffic control.
Jennifer Williams, marketing manager for CJ Miller, declined to comment for this story.
Even with CJ Miller doing the work, Cellitto is worried that the work on Main Street will not be worth the cost.
"I think they are putting existing businesses at risk for a hope that it will draw new business in," he said. "To me, it is not worth the risk."
Bert Raver, an insurance agent at Raver Insurance on Main Street, said he was frustrated with the lengthy projected time to complete the project. Given that the project will run until 2020, he said he doesn't understand why power lines will not be placed underground as well.
"They are only doing half the stuff they need to, in my mind," he said.
As big as the revitalization project is — the total cost is $25.6 million — some things just could not be fit in. Placing power lines underground, Nevin said, was one of those.
"That is a huge cost and it's not one that the state was willing to bear or one the town could bear," he said. "It was multiple millions."
Nevin said he recognizes the "proof will be in the pudding" when it comes to the success of the project, but that he believes the end results will be worth it.
"In the long run it's going to be beneficial to everybody who lives, works or travels up and down our Main Street," Nevin said. "At the end of the day, it will be worth the temporary disruption that will occur during the construction period."