WATERVILLE — Waterville Commons Drive is paved, traffic is moving more smoothly and merchants say they think another massive traffic jam like the one that occurred there Saturday is unlikely over the long Memorial Day holiday weekend.
However, many business people agree that a second access road into Waterville Commons would benefit both consumers and merchants and prevent traffic congestion in the future.
“That was what one of the customers said who came in Saturday — if there was another access road, it would alleviate that,” said Paul Conklin, assistant manager at Staples.
Customers of Staples and other businesses in Waterville Commons found themselves stuck for hours in traffic Saturday at the shopping complex off Upper Main Street.
Waterville Commons Drive, the only road into the complex, had been prepared to be paved when heavy rain, poor road conditions and heavy traffic caused large potholes to develop in the road. Motorists trying to avoid the ruts veered in front of other vehicles, creating chaos and angering drivers.
Bumpers, running boards and hubcaps fell off vehicles as they plunged into washed out areas. Police Chief Joseph Massey called in two officers to direct traffic and deal with road rage, a fistfight and other problems.
“The rain was wreaking havoc and the traffic on Saturday was atrocious,” Conklin said. “The parking lots at Walmart and Home Depot were completely clogged.”
Waterville Commons Associates LLC, of Akron, Ohio, owns Waterville Commons, but the company that developed the shopping complex in the early 2000s was Cedarwood Development.
Waterville Commons Associates hired Pike Industries, of Fairfield, to fix the road.
Messages left this week with Waterville Commons and an affiliated company, Riverview Management, seeking comment on whether a second access road might be built in the future were not returned. Pike officials earlier this week referred questions to Riverview.
Crews from Pike paved the road Tuesday night.
Waterville Public Works Director Mark Turner said the road was never built for heavy traffic such as tractor-trailer trucks that haul lumber, bricks and other heavy items to stores in Waterville Commons.
Meanwhile, John Hersey, general manager of Ruby Tuesday in Waterville Commons, said traffic congestion had not been a real problem for the restaurant until Saturday, and he thought police handled the situation well.
“I really think it’s just the misfortune of the weather that did it,” he said, adding that the now-paved road should alleviate further problems.
Like some other business people in the area, Hersey believes having a second access road would be beneficial.
“When we first built here, the plan was to have another access road; but someone somewhere along the line went against it,” he said. “An access road would certainly benefit, because it’s not just this time. There have been traffic jams before.”
A Home Depot official referred questions about the traffic situation to Catherine Woodling, a spokeswoman at the company’s Atlanta office.
“We’re just extremely pleased that the road was paved this week,” Woodling said Wednesday.
Barry Asalone, general manager of Fireside Inn & Suites, which leases space to the adjacent Governor’s restaurant, said the inn and restaurant were not affected by traffic problems Saturday as adversely as others because they are the first businesses on Waterville Commons Drive when entering from Main Street.
But Asalone said he, too, understood another access road to Waterville Commons was to be built as part of a second phase of development. He also recalled talk about building a road between Waterville Commons and Elm Plaza, since they are so close together and could share customers and relieve traffic issues.
“That just sounds like it would be a huge benefit to Elm Plaza because obviously, Walmart’s the big driver,” Asalone said. “If I owned Elm Plaza and I had a store in Elm Plaza, it would be beneficial to draw from Walmart.”
SECOND ACCESS ROAD
Before Waterville Commons was built in 2000, Cedarwood Development officials told the Planning Board it intended to build a second access road from Waterville Commons Drive, near where Cappza’s Pizza is now, to another area of Main Street. Construction of that second road started, but it was not completed.
Today the beginning of what was to become the second access road can be seen from Waterville Commons Drive. The road was to be part of the development’s second phase, along with additional retail businesses. It was never built because Cedarwood, the original developer, ended up selling part of its land to MaineGeneral Health, and those businesses were not added to the area.
The Rosenthal family, which owns Elm Plaza, supports building a road to connect the plaza to Waterville Commons; in fact, Andy Rosenthal said this week that he worked on a plan for such a road.
“From Day One, I’ve wanted to connect them,” he said. “I think it would be great for both.”
Initially, he looked at building a road near the north end of Elm Plaza, near Radio Shack, to Waterville Commons; but the elevation was too steep, he said.
Then he considered a different location for a road to connect the plaza and Waterville Commons — one that would connect to the road Waterville Commons started to build off Waterville Commons Drive, and wind around the back of Elm Plaza and the J.C. Penney store, entering the plaza near Champions Fitness Center.
Rosenthal and City Manager Mike Roy said they walked the site together last year and discussed the road. Rosenthal said he put money in his budget last year for building the road and even put the project out to bid, but complications arose, he said.
“We realized it’s not as easy as just connecting the two (shopping centers),” he said.
Waterville Commons officials also decided the plan did not make sense, he said.
“At that point in time, Mike and I basically dropped it,” Rosenthal said.
Roy said Wednesday that Waterville Commons officials “never even bothered to answer my question” about whether they would allow a connection to the road the company started to build for the second phase.
Roy said creating a connection between the plaza and Waterville Commons that would go behind J.C. Penney would not be feasible, because motorists would tend to try to avoid the traffic light resulting in congestion at the intersection of Waterville Commons Drive and Main Street as they try to enter Waterville Commons via Elm Plaza.
That, he said, would cause congestion problems. A traffic light probably would have to be installed at the southernmost entrance to Elm Plaza off Main Street, he said.
Likewise, motorists leaving Walmart and wanting to go to Elm Plaza probably would turn off Waterville Commons Drive on the new access road, Roy said.
“We believe the bulk of the traffic coming to and leaving Waterville Commons would end up taking that short cut through Elm Plaza, so how do you get around the stores that are there?” he said. “You just can’t route that much traffic around G.M. Pollack and Champions. The geometry would not work.”
Roy said he spoke Wednesday with a state Department of Transportation official about possibly configuring the road to provide two turning lanes, instead of one, into Waterville Commons Drive for motorists traveling north on Main Street.
“The road would have to be widened and the traffic signal changed,” he said. “DOT has concerns because the volume of traffic going straight through there (north toward Fairfield) is a lot higher than most people think. So we’re examining the idea of adding another left-turn lane, but it’s not a slam dunk.”