There aren’t many sandy beaches in the midcoast, but Lincolnville’s got one.
And it’s not much of a secret, since U.S. Route 1 passes within yards of the beach and offers eye-catching views of lobster boats, a ferry and islands.
In the summer, the stretch of road through the small cluster of restaurants, galleries, stores and guest houses – all of about a half-mile – is often a bottleneck of traffic. Whenever state highway planners talked about improvements, folks got nervous.
After years of negotiations and discussions between residents and the state Department of Transportation, the road through Lincolnville Beach is nearly rebuilt. And residents as well as the DOT are calling it a success.
The work includes granite curbs, period lights, concrete sidewalks and narrow travel lanes. It is probably the most substantial upgrade in decades.
Area historian and newspaper columnist Diane O’Brien dates the discussions with DOT to the early 1990s, when the state floated a plan to build a Route 1 bypass through the hinterlands of Knox and Waldo counties. The plan spurred passionate opposition, and was dropped.
But it launched a series of dialogues between the DOT and towns along Route 1 about the nature of the highway upgrades.
“We wanted a narrow road from the beginning, and that was the major issue,” O’Brien said. She served on the town’s Route 1 advisory committee, charged with discussing road work with the DOT.
Early on, the state revealed plans for the beach area that included moving houses, but residents would have none of it, agreeing only to work “that wouldn’t change the character of Lincolnville Beach,” she said.
The town’s first major victory came in the late 1990s, when it persuaded the DOT to rebuild the Route 1 bridge that passes over the Ducktrap River just north of the beach with a design similar to its predecessor, with a series of Roman-style arches supporting the road.
Of course, the arches are visible only from the spit of land at the mouth of the river; a DOT employee estimated at the time that the arches cost an additional $200,000.
When the DOT turned the road through the beach area, O’Brien said, the town did some more arm-twisting and convinced the state to stay with an 11-foot-wide travel lane, a 4-foot-wide paved shoulder, and a 2-foot-wide grassy verge. Drainage would be underground, eliminating the need for ditches.
O’Brien chuckled at the DOT’s recent Gateway 1 initiative, which urges towns along Route 1 to consider land use planning in connection with the highway.
“That’s us – we’ve already done this,” she said.
North of Lincolnville in Northport, the DOT built 12-foot-wide travel lanes and 8-foot paved shoulders, but Route 1 through all of Lincolnville is narrow, forcing drivers to go slower. The DOT had to seek federal waivers to retain the narrower roads, but the stretch of highway was touted by then-Transportation Commissioner John Melrose as a demonstration project.
Another coup for the locals came when the DOT agreed to rebuild the sidewalks that extended from where Viking Lumber is located south of the beach to the Ducktrap River Bridge to the north, a total of about two miles.
Because the sidewalks existed – albeit in a decrepit form – the DOT was bound to rebuild them, O’Brien said.
They were originally built in the 1920s by the Village Improvement Society, she said. The concrete sections were poured over a period of years, as the money was raised.
“The summer people were big contributors,” she said.
The sidewalks will extend from the beach north to a dentist’s office on the east side of the road, and to the Ducktrap bridge on the west side. Several crosswalks are planned. In the beach area, sloped, “mountable” granite curbs are being installed.
The result will be a pedestrian-friendly environment, O’Brien believes.
“I think people are going to love it,” she said.
DOT’s Heath Cowan, project manager for the work, said the highway makeover has been successful.
“I think we’ve got a project that the locals bought into,” he said.
The $2.2 million contract, awarded to Sargent & Sargent of Hampden, includes concrete pavers that look like bricks for the sidewalks, a new base for the flashing light near the ferry terminal at the intersection of Route 173, and the sloped granite curbs.
“We’re not sure exactly how well they’re going to work out,” he said of the curbs.
All the work, except a final layer of paving, will be done by the end of June.
A year ago, mostly during the winter, the DOT rebuilt the Frohock Bridge, a small span in the heart of the beach area. That work also was scrutinized and approved by the town committee.
Town Administrator David Kinney said the project has been “going together very nicely.”
The town’s participation is limited to purchasing the decorative streetlights, he said. The town parking lot, overlooking the beach, will lose a few spaces, but an informal parking area across from the post office will be paved and better defined, he said.
“There will definitely be better pedestrian access,” Kinney said, and when the project is complete, “some underutilized buildings might become better utilized.”
Rob and Dorothee Newcombe, who own the Whale’s Tooth Pub, have suffered through the multiple construction seasons, and are trying to remain patient about the better times they believe are coming.
“It’s going to be a good thing, that’s for sure,” Dorothee Newcombe said.
“It’s going to very pretty, with sidewalks and pretty lights. People are going to want to walk through Lincolnville Beach,” she said.
The Beach, as it is known locally, has a rich history, O’Brien said. The first permanent settler, Hezekiah French, built in the beach area, which came to be known as French’s Beach.
“There was a shipyard there,” O’Brien said, and a steamboat wharf, both of which are long gone. Motels, guest houses and the Lobster Pound Restaurant were established in the 1930s with the rise of middle-class vacationers using cars to visit the Maine coast.
And with the conclusion of the makeover, travelers heading north and east might be more likely to stop over again.