Mystic - Nearly four months after its scheduled completion date, there were clear signs Wednesday that an end is in sight for the downtown Mystic streetscape project.
Connecticut Light & Power arrived early Wednesday morning to remove five utility poles from West Main Street, a major element in the $3.6 million portion of the project that includes underground utilities along the length of the historic downtown area. The road is already repaved with new granite curbs, sidewalks and sitting areas.
But the work is not quite done.
More poles await removal in the coming weeks, and Pettini Contracting Corp. has yet to complete finishing work that includes handrails, street furnishings and landscaping - some of which was expected to start this week but hasn't, said project manager Rick Norris, a town employee.
"We'd like to get it completed and be out of downtown as soon as possible," said Norris from his temporary office behind a block of downtown storefronts.
"We've been imposing longer on the village than we intended to," Norris said. "Merchants by and large have been supportive. But I know it is frustrating."
While Norris acknowledges unforeseen delays to the project, he said Pettini could be subject to "liquidated damages," such as fines of up to $500 a day for work done beyond the June 30 completion date written into the contract. Pettini has been the target of some frustrations of downtown merchants who have watched work crews outside their storefronts intermittently for the past two years.
Jack Steel, who has operated The Company of Craftsmen from the same location in downtown for more than three decades, said the town simply picked the wrong contractor.
As much as Pettini has been helpful in working with merchants to keep businesses open, the sheer length of time it has taken has hurt business, he said. He was upbeat, however, on Wednesday as he watched utility poles disappear.
"It looks fantastic," Steel said.
Mystic Chamber of Commerce President Tricia Cunningham said merchants are anxious for completion of the project, as are local residents.
"The big thing is the traffic woes have pretty much come to a close," Cunningham said. "We're very excited. The traffic did keep many locals from visiting downtown."
Cunningham said that without the utility wires, the downtown area has taken on a cleaner, more quaint look.
Bank Square Books owner Patience Banister agreed.
"It's nice to see the project coming to an end," she said.
Norris said once the poles are removed, the holes left in the concrete sidewalks will need to be filled. Poles holding bridge signals will remain until the completion of the drawbridge repairs.
Town Manager Mark Oefinger said there is a penalty clause in the contract with Pettini but said completion of work and final paperwork on the projects is weeks, if not months, off.
"There are quite a few items that need to be dealt with before we close out the project," Oefinger said. "The focus is to get that stuff done."
Oefinger said 95 percent of the work to bury utilities has been done for a while and some wrangling with the utility companies has led to delays in the removal of the poles.
"This has been long awaited. The poles coming down to me is the icing on the cake. Personally, I think downtown Mystic looks fantastic. The work will serve us well for the next 50 plus years."
A representative from Pettini could not be reached for comment.