Upcoming Thames Street work in Groton fuels optimism, concerns

Alice Mabry and Bryan Fowler head to their Thames Street home Monday after stopping to talk to neighbor Janet Coburn, at rear, now talking to customers Robert Kent and Bill Martin at her Mud Turtle Cafe. Mabry is happy to see the long-awaited repairs to the Groton street get underway. Coburn worries the construction will hurt her year-old restaurant business.

Groton - Contractors reviewed final plans Monday and began setting up for the $6.4 million reconstruction of Thames Street, which city leaders hope will brighten the area, lead to more upgrades and ultimately attract new business.

Construction starts May 15.

"I'm delighted," said Alice Mabry, 86, who lives at 249 Thames St.

Next door, Janet Coburn said she's scared. She opened the Mud Turtle Café one year ago and just started making money. If workers close parts of Thames Street during construction, it could hurt.

"My biggest question and concern is, 'How is it going to affect me?'" she said. "I'm still struggling."

Outside her shop, a sign reads: "Eat here or we'll both starve!"

Thames Street, used by locals and thousands of commuters to Electric Boat and Pfizer Inc., offers a striking view of the Thames River, but also rows of vacant storefronts, junk boats and at least one burned-out building shell.

Voters approved the $6.4 million bond referendum in May, and on Friday the city signed a $4.67 million contract with B&W Paving of Waterford. The other $1.8 million will fund items such as financing and contingency.

B&W Paving Owner Jim Wray said he'll employ up to 20 people per day and hire local crews. The company will work from May until November, then start again next spring, he said. Crews must complete drainage work, remove concrete and train tracks beneath the street and rebuild retaining walls. Some curbing must also be replaced.

The work includes sidewalks but no widening of the street.

Groton City Finance Director Michael Hillsberg said the plan is to keep alternating one-way traffic on Thames Street during construction, though sections may be closed at times. He said the city is sensitive to the needs to businesses and will work with them.

"We don't want to shut the road down," he said.

Both candidates for mayor - Democratic incumbent Marian Galbraith and Republican Town Councilor James Streeter - have said revitalizing the road is a key part of improving the local economy.

Streeter, also the town historian, said Thames Street had 73 businesses 50 years ago. As of two weeks ago, it had 22.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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