WATERVILLE — An engineering firm that studied options for improving the intersection at Main, Bridge and Water streets recommends two scenarios be considered for further study and consideration: a roundabout and a circular intersection.

Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers Inc., of Gray, was hired by the city to study ways to make the intersection just south of downtown more user-friendly and safer for pedestrians and motorists and make it a more attractive gateway to the city.

Don Ettinger, of Gorrill-Palmer, on Tuesday presented city officials and the public with the company’s findings and recommendations. About 60 people turned out for the presentation in the council chambers.

Ettinger said four options were studied: the roundabout and circular intersection, which he called options 1 and 4, respectively; a signalized intersection with turning lanes and a signalized intersection with reduced turning lanes, which he named options 2 and 3, respectively.

Construction cost estimates for options 2 and 4 are both $1.4 million, and the estimates for options 1 and 3 are $1.6 million and $1.2 million, respectively, according to Ettinger.

City Manager Michael Roy explained that when the city sold the former Hathaway shirt company building on Water Street, officials promised buyer Paul Boghossian, who developed it into the Hathaway Creative Center, that the city would investigate options for improving pedestrian crossing at the intersection to make it easier for people to walk to and from the center from downtown. Hundreds of people live and work at the center, which includes apartments, offices and retail stores.

Roy said any option considered for the intersection is subject to City Council approval, and the city would pursue various outside avenues of funding for such a project, as the city can’t afford to fund improvements.

Meanwhile, the city is working with Colby College officials, business leaders and economic development advocates to look at the entire downtown area to identify ways to improve its look and feel. They are looking at parking, traffic and other issues.

Colby has bought two buildings on Main Street — the former Levine’s clothing store at 9 Main St. and the Hains office building at 173 Main St. — with an eye toward improving them. Discussions have included possibly developing a small or boutique hotel downtown for people visiting the city who then would shop and eat downtown, as well as small restaurants, a gallery, a museum store, other retail shops and a parking garage.

As part of looking at the big picture, officials want to study the possibility of turning Main Street into a two-way street, as it was before it was changed in the 1950s. They also are considering studying making Front Street a two-way street. Front Street also was once two-way for traffic.

City officials emphasized that no decisions have been made on any fronts, including the intersection.

“The city is not advocating any of the options,” City Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “This is only the first discussion. In no way are we advocating for two-way traffic or a rotary or anything. This is just information for us all to have to make the best decision possible because we’ve done our homework.”

Mayor Nick Isgro concurred. “This will come back to us as we’ll look at a full downtown plan,” he said. “This isn’t going to be something that happens independently or overnight.”

Roy said the state Department of Transportation has approval authority over any plans for changes to the intersection.

“This is a state road — U.S. highway 201,” Roy said. “We can’t make any changes in the intersection without DOT’s concurrence, and they’ve been involved with the study.”

Ettinger noted that the state requires that any changes not affect the current level of service there.

A roundabout would have no traffic signals, and vehicles entering it would yield to those already in the circle.

“The trick with a roundabout is speed control of vehicles,” he said.

The second option, the signalized intersection with turning lanes, is beneficial to pedestrians because when they have a signal to cross, no vehicles are in their way, he said.

“The bad news is, it takes you longer to cross because you have to wait for the signal,” he said. “It’s very safe, but it’s time-consuming.”

Option 3, the signalized intersection with reduced turning lanes, shrinks the footprint of the intersection and has longer delays. Option 4, or the circular intersection, is good for pedestrian connectivity and mobility and provides a strong gateway to the community. It also provides the best results for converting Main and Front streets to two-way traffic, according to the study.

“This intersection at one time had a very similar layout (to option 4)” Ettinger said.

Colby officials had presented option 4 to Gorrill-Palmer, he said. He noted that the option hasn’t been approved by the transportation department as it is currently designed and it would have to be refined further.

Option 1 also provides a strong gateway, provides the best operations and provides good pedestrian mobility and allows conversion of the layout to accommodate two-way traffic on Main relatively easily, according to the study.

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, asked why the circular intersection that was on the site many years ago was changed to the current signalized intersection.

“I think we have to remember the times — cars being the favored mode of transportation in the ’50s,” Roy said. “Main Street became one-way. It was all based on moving people as fast as you could from point A to point B, and pedestrians were left behind. It was really about getting people down Main Street as fast as they could. Now we’re trying to stop that.”

Isgro said one of the goals is to tie Main Street with Hathaway and make it a continuation of Waterville’s downtown area.

“There are some great things happening there, and we really want to include that,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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