The most chilling news people can hear often begins with the announcement that the government has arrived to offer special help to their community. At least a few people in Fryeburg may be pondering that old maxim about now.
As a kid I thought of Fryeburg as something of a poor neighbor. The state line seemed to be the boundary beyond which the roads were a lot rougher and people’s teeth tended more often to be bad, or absent. Also, anything you bought there cost a penny or two more than you expected, because of a sales tax then set at 2 percent. That never failed to foil my careful calculations for whatever I had planned to buy.
Conway has always been my home, but as it becomes increasingly unpleasant to look at and live in I’ve come to appreciate Fryeburg much more. With a good pair of hiking boots I can strike off into the woods behind the chicken coop, plunge through a couple of miles of forest, come out on the railroad tracks, and follow them into Fryeburg Village in little over an hour. There is no such pleasant way to get to Conway or North Conway, despite worthy efforts to connect a few walking and bicycling paths. Fryeburg itself is also a much more “walkable” village than either of what I think of as our two big fire-department empires.
Both Conway Village and Fryeburg Village are less desirable destinations just now, thanks to “improvements” being imposed on each of them. Even walking from Greenwood Avenue to the VA clinic on Hobbs Street is a disagreeable trial, with sidewalks obliterated or blocked by constructions signs, but that’s preferable to driving through the village. Similar woes afflict Fryeburg, where a woman told me recently that her windshield was broken by a rock bouncing off a construction vehicle.
The traffic snarls, rock damage, noise, and dust in Fryeburg are byproducts of the Maine Western Gateways Project —a $22 million joint venture between the federal government and Maine’s Department of Transportation. As in the Conway construction, the real beneficiary is not the local community, but the carbon-producing disaster known as the tourist industry. The project summary admits as much, noting that “Maine’s multi-billion-dollar tourism industry benefits when those visiting Maine travel on roads that are smooth, modern, and safe.”
The summary also claims “local residents will benefit as well,” but Fryeburgers may be wondering about that. Fryeburg’s Main Street is now choked down by an enormous granite curb thrust out eight or ten feet beyond the sidewalks, with the intervening former roadway filled in and grassed over.
How green. How suburban. How attractive for the sainted visitors. How utterly destructive to the atmosphere of Fryeburg Village.
Protruding into the road as it does, that curbing and the artificial extension of greenspace eats up all the abundant parking from Portland Street to Bradley Street. The First Congregational Church is deprived of its most convenient parking for elderly and disabled parishioners, and its front walkway is now essentially useless. Imagine pallbearers trying to stumble over that precipice with a casket.
Parking at the thrift shop in the vestry building, which used to be perfectly safe, is now downright hazardous. Drivers exiting their vehicles step directly into the path of oncoming traffic, with no defined path to the shop. Parking will surely be prohibited there after the first serious accident. Had the intent been specifically to blockade the church and thrift shop, it could not have been better planned.
One small benefit from the project has been a slight widening of the shoulder coming over the hill into the village, where bicycling was avoided by all but the suicidal. That must have been an unintended consequence, because bicyclists now have absolutely no room in the insanely restricted street east of the stoplight.
Minor modifications are purportedly being undertaken to relieve the more glaring inconveniences, but that expensive undertaking remains detrimental overall, besides having completely disrupted Fryeburg businesses two years in a row. Did the idiots who designed this spend no time at all observing events in the community on which they inflict their benevolence? God save everyone from government help.
William Marvel lives in South Conway.