Mystic is on the mend

There's no discouraging some tourists in Mystic on a hot summer day, not even with a streetscape construction project going full tilt.

Having watched the constant disruption to the streets and sidewalks on the Groton side of Mystic since last fall, I thought I had seen as much disruption as any contractor could throw at the town.

And yet as bad as the traffic snarls were all winter, nothing prepared me for the mess that I saw Friday, as the contractor, Pettini Contracting Corp., hurried to beat the clock and the possible imposition of late finish fines, starting Saturday.

Big noisy machines excavated multiple sites at the principal downtown intersection, assisted by a fleet of dump tucks, backup buzzers sounding in unison.

A team of traffic police tried to make sense of it all, flagging long lines of cars through the dusty scene, around exposed manhole covers and past clusters of busy workers.

Never mind the usual bridge openings and closings, this was Mystic traffic hell, as bad as I've ever seen it.

Still, on the tourists came.

They strolled on sections of sidewalk not torn up, some licking ice cream cones and browsing in the windows of the stores still open. They might as well have been strolling through a war scene, bombs bursting around them.

Friday's turmoil, when I returned this week to see some semblance of calm, reminded me of the expression "darkest before the dawn," that brief period between the setting of the moon and the sunrise.

Indeed, the project is winding down this week. A big section of Route 1, from the drawbridge all the way up the hill to Union Baptist Church, was paved Monday, a development downtown merchants greeted like a Santa Claus sighting in July.

State rules impose a hiatus on work on the main roads on a holiday, as well as the day before and day after. But paving is scheduled to resume Friday and could be finished then.

After Friday, the work will turn to smaller projects, completion of two small parklets, removal of the old power lines and installation of new light poles. Traffic should return to normal.

"It's light at the end of the tunnel," Paula Robinson, owner of Pentangle, a women's clothing store, told me Monday, as she looked out at the fresh new pavement on Main Street in front of her shop.

Other merchants say they are grateful for a recent town decision to offer visitors up to five free hours of parking, under a lease deal with the Mystic Art Association, which owns the central lot in town.

Maybe if it goes well, the town might consider some permanent lease agreement and offer visitors at least a couple of hours free.

Rick Norris, the project manager for the town, said Tuesday he could not say whether the town will seek fines against the contractor.

He said the $3.6 million contract with Pettini, not including new power lines and other parts of the $6 million project, calls for fines of $500 for each day the work is not substantially complete, a somewhat subjective term.

"We are trying hard to push the contractor to get done and get out of here, to turn the village back to normal," Norris said.

Looking for a comment at the scene from the contractor, I was directed to someone workers called Mr. Pettini. Mr. Pettini was friendly and said hello but gave me a big no comment when I asked about the finish of the project.

Meanwhile, don't tell the merchants, but Norris mentioned the possibility of phase two of the project, possibly starting next year.

It will complete improvements down Water Street, add new sidewalks and even a big stretch of parallel parking. It is much smaller in scale than phase one.

And when it starts, no doubt the merchants will complain, but the tourists will keep coming.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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