011921 PAW Rte 1 sidewalks in Pawcatuck hh 24830.JPG

A pedestrian walks along the narrow shoulder of Route 1 in Pawcatuck just past the Pawcatuck Shopping Plaza on Tuesday. A design plan for a project that would connect Stonington High School and Mayflower Avenue with sidewalks is expected to be unveiled sometime in February. | Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — A design plan for the construction of sidewalks along Route 1 in Pawcatuck is about 90% complete and officials have met with eight of the 28 property owners who would be impacted as the town readies to unveil the project proposal to the public in February.

First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough and Susan Cullen, the town’s director of economic and community development, each said the town is ready to move forward with a goal of finalizing plans by April and having the project shovel-ready later this year. There is still a lot of work to be done, however, in determining costs, funding and a final timeline for each phase of construction.

“The exact cost estimates for the project are still incomplete and it would be too early to try and release that information. That is part of the final 10%,” Cullen said this week. “It is part of why it will be so important to get this information out to the public in the coming months.”

Officials have set a tentative date of Feb. 11 for the first of what Chesebrough said was likely to be several virtual public forums that will allow the public to learn more about the project and share feedback on plans. The project proposal is available upon request through the town’s Planning Department.

Stonington residents seeking to view the documents are asked to call ahead and set an appointment as a safety precaution due to the pandemic.

Under the proposed plan, the town would seek to separate the project into phases that would connect sidewalks along both sides of Route 1 from Stonington High School to Mayflower Avenue. The first phase would focus on the southern side of Route 1, officials said, with work on the northern side to be completed during future phases.

To proceed with construction, Cullen said the town is also currently negotiating with property owners regarding right of way needs to create space for the sidewalks. She said that she has met individually with eight owners and their families, but will still need to schedule a time to meet with the remaining 20 impacted property owners.

“We will be seeking to address concerns and make sure all property owners are comfortable and understand how this project would impact them,” Cullen said. “We’ve already heard questions, for example, about how it would impact their ability to leave and return from their driveway. Those are questions that are important for us to answer.”

Cullen said Tuesday that representatives of BL Companies of Hartford, the company hired for project design, are also working with various utility suppliers, including Eversource, Xfinity and Verizon to determine if any equipment or poles would need to be moved. The hope is that none of the utility poles would be impacted, which would help prevent growing costs, but Cullen said that work is not yet complete.

For the town’s elected officials, the challenge will be determining the best way for the town to fund its matching costs for the project, a condition necessary as part of conditions that allowed Stonington to acquire a $600,000 grant from the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management last summer.

“The money we have now isn’t going to be able to cover costs for construction on both sides from the high school through Mayflower (Avenue),” she said. “Our intent is to start with the south and then move to complete portions of the northern side once money becomes available.”

Members of the Board of Finance approved a portion of the funding in September as part of a $130,000 capital improvement plan expenditure in the current fiscal year — money that was used to help fund the design portion of the project — but the town will need to foot another $220,000 in order to complete the initial phase of the project and continue to access the remaining grant funds.

Chesebrough said that in a tight budget cycle, expected due in large part to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen will need to consider various options. The town will also need to balance these costs against other needs, such sewer system maintenance and repairs, while also being careful not to overburden taxpayers impacted financially by current economic conditions.

“There are going to be financial restrictions, and that’s something we are going to need to keep in mind,” Chesebrough said. “If we are not able to fund it up front, we will need to create a plan to fund the project in segments.”

Both Chesebrough and Cullen said they are confident that the funding will become available in the coming years and the project will be brought to completion.

“This is something that has been a concern, a project that has been in the making for 20 years,” Cullen said. “The sidewalk will improve pedestrian safety and benefits the community by connecting the high school to downtown Pawcatuck. The response so far has been incredibly positive and we are excited to move the project forward.”

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