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Mechanic Street Construction Projects Create Roadblock for Area Businesses

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    Customers enjoy their lunch at the Phnom Penh Sandwich Station as traffic slowly rolls by at the intersection of Mechanic and Mascoma Streets in Lebanon, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. According to restaurant owner Sarin Tin, the construction has had a significant impact on their lunchtime rush. "I just don't understand why they do both roads at the same time," Tin said. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — August Frank

  • Construction worker Dave Parris controls the flow of traffic at the intersection of Mechanic and Mascoma Streets in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. Nearby businesses Dairy Twirl and Phnom Penh Sandwich Station have seen a decrease in customers around lunchtime due to the construction. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — August Frank

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    Matt Houseman looks out at the construction at the intersection of Mechanic and Mascoma Streets during lunch in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. The construction has been challenging and a "disruption to flow of traffic" Houseman said. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to August Frank

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/5/2018 11:51:02 PM
Modified: 6/6/2018 3:05:02 PM

Lebanon — As spring construction snarls traffic and creates delays along Mechanic Street, some city businesses are worrying about their bottom line.

Several business owners said on Tuesday that work to install stormwater lines and replace some sewer pipes has deterred customers from visiting the busy stretch of Route 4 just outside of downtown Lebanon, hitting at their profits.

“We’ve seen significant impact obviously from our daytime traffic here,” said Cinnamon Murray, who owns Dairy Twirl.

The ice cream shop often is busiest in May, as people celebrate the end of winter with a cold treat, Murray said.

But many customers have stayed away this year as the road outside her business is ripped up for new pipes, she said.

With traffic down to a single, alternating lane, it now can take anywhere between an additional four to 10 minutes to drive a quarter mile on Mechanic Street.

“We’re definitely feeling it,” Murray said in a phone interview.

Crews began work this spring to separate waste and stormwater in the city’s sewer system on Mechanic and Mascoma streets, City Engineer Christina Hall said during a forum on Tuesday afternoon.

The two streets are among 16 in the area that will undergo construction as part of a $69 million project known as the combined sewer overflow project, or CSO, which must be completed by Nov. 1, 2019, Hall told a room of about 30 attendees at Harvest Hill.

Tuesday’s forum was sponsored by the city, the Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce and Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital with the purpose of informing residents and employers about the construction, and allowing them to voice concerns.

The multiyear CSO is being undertaken because during heavy rains, Hall said, Lebanon’s wastewater sewers can become overtaxed because storm drains also tie into the same lines. Together, the waste and stormwater combine and overflow into the Mascoma River, she said.

Work on Mascoma Street likely will wrap up in July, with neighboring city streets continuing to see construction throughout the summer, Hall said.

While that was welcome news to some, others said the business lost from snarled traffic already is being felt.

Dairy Twirl relies on lunchtime business, when people drop by to grab a quick shake or ice cream, Murray said. But people can’t be sure they now can make that stop quickly with traffic down to a single lane, she said.

Children also walk by less regularly, since the sidewalk is gone on some sections of the road, and the traffic from nightly commuters is down, too, Murray said.

Sarin Tin, who owns the nearby Phnom Penh Sandwich Station on High Street, said he’s seen similar trends. People tend to avoid crossing the Mascoma Street bridge if they can, he said.

“It did slow business down,” Tin said of the construction. “Lunchtime used to be busier, but now people don’t come out this way anymore.”

Businesses aren’t just bracing for one difficult season, but several. Both the city and state have big plans for the Mechanic Street corridor in the coming years.

Next year, work is expected to begin on the Mascoma Street bridge connecting downtown to Mascoma and Mechanic streets. Crews will be replacing the bridge’s full deck, including steel girders over the summer, according to plans on the city website.

During the construction, traffic is proposed to be limited to one way over the bridge, with a detour wrapping up High Street and down Hanover Street.

Around the same time, crews will be working on another section of sewer and stormwater lines between Freihofer’s Bakery Outlet and Blacksmith Street, Hall said. Drivers can expect alternating one-way traffic during that project.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation also is proposing to close down the Mascoma Street bridge that runs over Interstate 89 in summer 2019 for repairs, Hall warned.

And in 2020, the city is hoping to break ground on a new roundabout at the intersection of Mechanic, High and Mascoma streets. Another roundabout at the intersection of Mechanic Street and Slayton Hill Road also could come in 2023, followed by street improvements, city officials said.

“I was actually surprised by that,” Murray said. “I was surprised by the length of time, how many years it’s going to take to complete.”

The construction already is a “huge inconvenience,” but there might be some ways the city could finish its sewer work early, Bruce Bergeron said during Tuesday’s forum.

Bergeron — who owns nine Jake’s Market & Deli convenience stores and the Jake’s Coffee Co. shop — suggested hiring companies with larger crews more capable of finishing big projects.

“It’s painful watching them work on a little piece of Mechanic Street over and over,” he said, while acknowledging there likely aren’t easy answers to ease the construction.

Hall, the engineer, said the city normally does accept the lowest bidder for projects, but also vets companies on their past work and capabilities. Because the CSO project goes through so many residential neighborhoods across Lebanon, she said, the city isn’t considering night work.

City officials will continue reaching out to neighbors as projects begin, and also will work to keep communication open with businesses and commuters, Hall said. People can take some solace in the fact that crews often appear to be ahead of schedule, she added.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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