For a month, Debbie Finch has tolerated noise, dust and the inconvenience of being unable to park in her driveway and three-car garage, thanks to state highway crews.
For eight more months -- until about Thanksgiving -- construction will surround Finch and her neighbors on Westminster's West Side as the state reconfigures, repaves and landscapes West Main Street from Pennsylvania Avenue to Route 31. The project includes new sidewalks, a storm drain system and temporary traffic snarls.
"It's been a burden and an annoyance, but we've managed," said Finch, whose sweeping front porch offers orchestra seating for the drama of bulldozers and hard-hatted construction workers. "The good thing, though, is that the kids have no trouble getting up for school. The banging of the equipment and then the jackhammer starts rolling at 6: 30, and they're up."
The $1.67 million project is the end of the 10-year reconstruction of Main Street, including the three-mile downtown stretch that serves as the city's Champs Elysees. This was where wealthy Baltimoreans in the late 1800s spent their summer holidays in upscale hotels that advertised a mosquito-free season in the country. Promoters bragged about the street's attractive churches, fine business establishments and handsome houses.
Now, the historic storefronts and century-old houses stand near gas stations and liquor stores, and residents worry about drug-related crime. Atop a hill at the northwestern end sits the red-brick campus of the 134-year old Western Maryland College.
The most significant part of the street reconstruction is taking place near the campus entrance, where crews are reconfiguring where West Main intersects with Old New Windsor and Uniontown roads, and Union Street to the south. Thomas B. Beyard, the city's director of planning and public works, said the project will untangle intersections and make them safer.
Lora Rakowski, a spokeswoman for the state highway administration, said utility work along the road has delayed construction crews. The section closed between Pennsylvania Avenue and Old New Windsor Road is scheduled to reopen at the end of May. Crews will continue to close sections until they reach Route 31 in November.
"I really hope they will be done by then, because by May we will be into the stretch of `enough is enough,' " Finch said.
Police -- unable to maneuver their cruisers through the unpaved construction site -- patrol the neighborhood on foot. Finch and her neighbors whose driveways exit onto West Main have had to park elsewhere. Alleys have become parking lots, trash pickup points and alternate travel routes for vehicles, including school buses. Police recently set up an electronic speed enforcer to warn motorists who use alleys and detour routes to slow down.
"It's an inconvenience, but it's an inconvenience we all know is going to end," said Patricia Rouzer, whose home on Westmoreland Street is within two blocks of the construction site. "The real issue for the neighborhood is that it's increased traffic, and people are not being real observant of the speed limits around here."
Rouzer said she's seen drivers roll through stop signs on Green Street and speed along her hilly street -- symptoms of the drivers' impatience with alternative routes.
"People are not as familiar with those roads," she said. "But I also think there are people who just get annoyed at having stop signs at every block. So they give it a quick look and keep right on going.
"But these are neighborhood streets," Rouzer said, "and we have a lot of kids in the 6-to-10 age group who are maybe not real cautious about watching before they cross the street."
Beyard said the city has received fewer complaints from this project than it received during previous portions of Main Street's reconstruction.
"People get used to what's happening because we've done so many of these," he said. "They know it will end and they know it will look nicer when it's over."