BLUE HILL — The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) has awarded Blue Hill a $400,000 grant to build sidewalks on South Street, but it’s too early to harbor fantasies of safely walking on sidewalks to the schools, the new co-op and nearby businesses.
The grant is thanks to a group of residents who formed a nonprofit organization called Blue Hill Community Development. The organization formed as a 501(c)3 in 2017.
Board member John Burns said the group raised private funds to hire Brewer engineering firm CES to draft a proposal for the grant application.
Burns said the group came up with a project that would line a third of a mile of South Street with sidewalks on both sides for an estimated cost of $500,000.
The project as currently designed would create sidewalks on both sides of South Street from the roundabout at the top of Tenney Hill a quarter or a third of a mile down South Street to the area of NAPA Auto Parts and The Bay School, Burns said.
The proposed project would entail reducing the width of the travel lanes on South Street from 11 or 12 feet to 10 feet wide, which would also serve to calm traffic.
The MDOT would fund $400,000 and the town would need to provide a 20 percent match or $100,000.
However, the project is not a done deal.
Selectman Jim Schatz said “there’s a lot of stuff in flux.”
The grant has been approved for the MDOT’s next three-year work plan, which means 2021 before any work would commence.
Schatz said the state hasn’t approved funding yet for that work plan. If the work plan isn’t fully funded, Blue Hill could be slated to receive less than $400,000.
“There’s not enough information to know what kind of restrictions are going to be placed on the town when we design and build this,” he said. “Will $500,000 cover sidewalks for both sides of the street? And is it going to be $500,000?”
Further muddying the proposed project is the fact that the Maine DOT would receive federal DOT funds for the project. That means Blue Hill would need to follow federal rules with the project.
One example is wages for those involved with the project. The contractor must follow the federal Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 for wages of those building the sidewalk.
Davis-Bacon mandates that workers on federal projects be paid “prevailing wages,” which are often higher than the local average wage.
One research economist said the Davis-Bacon Act requires the government to pay construction wages that average 22 percent above market rates.
The town had gotten a grant some years ago through a Maine DOT Safe Routes to School program, involving more federal money, to build a crosswalk on High Street.
However, Blue Hill opted out of the grant because it was cheaper to do the project on its own than use the grant and comply with the federal guidelines, Schatz said.
The Blue Hill selectmen are tentatively scheduled to meet on Friday, March 29, with a DOT project manager to discuss details.
The town match is already in place should the project go forward.
Schatz said Blue Hill residents at the 2017 annual Town Meeting voted unanimously to provide up to $100,000 for the project if the town was awarded the grant.