Bestgate project back on track Road work expected to finish on schedule

June 27, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Annapolis motorists' long nightmare on Bestgate Road may soon be over.

County officials say the $12.6 million road reconstruction that seems to have been progressing at a snail's pace will be finished on schedule in mid-November, despite delays caused by an unusually wet spring and the bankruptcy of the project's first contractor.

The new contractor has paved about 25 percent of the westbound lanes, which will soon be open while work begins on the other side.

Once the new stretch opens, "I think people will see a significant improvement in the driving surface," said Robert Loomis, assistant director of public works.

And during the summer, residents should see more rapid progress because the time-consuming job of installing underground utilities is almost finished, he added.

Rebuilding Bestgate Road became necessary as mushrooming development drove traffic volumes higher. The twists and turns and roller-coaster dips were fine for a country road, but they were hazardous on a thoroughfare connecting Annapolis Mall to the city's downtown.

Eleanor Cohen, who has lived on Bestgate Road for 34 years, remembers when it was much quieter. "You didn't see a car in an hour. If you saw a car, you were lucky," she said. "Now, it's like Grand Central Station."

For the residents, businesses and eight churches along Bestgate Road, life under construction has been miserable.

Traffic is often tied up as heavy equipment moves back and forth. The road has been turned into a bone-jarring washboard of ruts that mark the spots where utility lines cut across it beneath the surface.

Despite the complaints, many say the finished product, a four-lane, tree-lined boulevard, will be worth the wait and inconvenience.

Howard Fuller, owner for 17 years of Fuller's Package Goods, said he has lost about 50 percent of his business since construction began. "I've been working 18 to 20 hours a day, trying to make ends meet."

But he does not blame the county. "I don't think they can do much about that," he said. "They've got to do what they've got to do."

Still, he longs for the day when the skip loaders and bulldozers are gone. "I think once it's done, business will pick up again," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

The Rev. Robert M. Powell, rector of St. Phillip's Episcopal Church, said the dirt raised by the construction is most annoying.

"It's creating so much dust and mud, it's hard to keep the place clean," Mr. Powell said. "The janitor has to come in more often. He comes in Friday and Saturday and by Sunday, it's just so dusty."

There have been other nuisances. A bulldozer inadvertently knocked over the church sign. A good deal of landscaping was taken out by widening the road. And the church lost its entrance on Bestgate Road, leaving only one way in and out of the parking lot.

"On Sunday, it's really a mess in terms of parking," Mr. Powell said.

And the road has become "treach erous at night, because you have these potholes or sinkholes," he said. "You can hear car tires screeching at night. I'm expecting someone to drive off into one of those ditches."

On days when a funeral procession travels to Pinelawn Memorial Gardens, the road can really be a mess. But cemetery employees take it in stride.

"We have funerals coming in and, of course, it's inconvenient," said Haywood D. Ward, vice president of the cemetery. "We've had perfect cooperation. We let [the construction crew] know when a funeral is coming in, and they work with us."

Once the road is done, Mr. Ward hopes that his business will benefit from increased visibility. He has designed a new entrance, with a wrought-iron gate, that will show off the cemetery.

"When this road is finished, we think a lot of people will see [the cemetery], and we think a lot of people will like it," Mr. Ward said.

Mrs. Cohen, the longtime Bestgate Road resident, said she and her husband want to move to Florida but have to sell their house first. "I'm having a hard time selling it because it's like an eyesore," she said.

Mr. Loomis of the Public Works Department said he sympathizes with the residents' woes.

"I can understand how people who live there are upset," he said. "The south side is going to experience that same discomfort when we get that side of the road surface graded."

The first phase of the project, Bestgate Road from Lawrence Avenue to Callahan Lane, is the most complex. In some places, the road will be lowered by more than 10 feet.

In addition, utility lines are being installed underground. The sewer lines were completed in March and the water system should be finished by the end of next month.

The second phase, from Callahan Lane to Generals Highway, will be done by the construction company that is doing the addition to Annapolis Mall and will be paid for by the mall owners in lieu of an impact fee.

Construction to straighten out a curve in the road began earlier this month and should be finished in November.

In the last phase, a portion of Generals Highway will be widened to five lanes to include lanes for turning as well as acceleration and deceleration.

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