There is good news for drivers who regularly traverse Mount Vernon Avenue in Augusta and have been frustrated by the pothole-filled road for some time: It will soon be better. The bad news is, it will first get much worse.

The Maine Department of Transportation has announced plans to limit travel on the road, a major thoroughfare through the city, to one direction beginning Aug. 17. The change is needed to accommodate crews doing utility and road work along the narrower sections as part of a complete overhaul of the road. The one-way change is expected to last 90 days, or until sometime in mid-November.

Businesses along the route will remain accessible, but Mayor David Rollins said he knows attracting customers will be a challenge.

“They know it’s long overdue,” Rollins said of the business owners, many of whom have complained for years about the road’s rough surface. “They’re going to have to bite the bullet, so to speak, and do the best they can while this interrupts the normal course of business, knowing at the end of the tunnel they’re going to have a great entryway into the city of Augusta.”

The one-way diversion will have a positive effect on drivers who have long clamored for the option to turn left onto Townsend Road from Marketplace Drive. The state this week removed the right-turn only island, and signs and will allow drivers leaving Marketplace Drive to turn left or right onto Townsend Road. The change will allow drivers better access to Northern Avenue, which is part of the detour route that will be created when Mount Vernon Avenue is converted to one-way traffic.

The change at the Marketplace Drive intersection isn’t supposed to be permanent, but Rollins, echoing what he says is the sentiment of the majority of residents, hopes the state will reconsider and make the left-turn option permanent.

“The overwhelming opinion of the neighborhood is that they would like to see it a left turn,” Rollins said.

Drivers heading north toward the Augusta Civic Center will be able to drive the length of Mount Vernon Avenue once the one-way section is established, said Ernie Martin, project manager for the state transportation department. Drivers heading downtown on Civic Center Drive — Civic Center Drive turns into Mount Vernon Avenue at Bond Brook Road and Mount Vernon Avenue turns into State Street at Bond Street — will take a detour onto Townsend Road and Northern Avenue during the one-way period.

“The locals are going to figure their own path,” Martin said. “They know more shortcuts than we do.”

The one-way section will stretch from Mill Street in the south to a fuel depot about a half mile to the north. Traffic will continue to flow in both directions south and north of those points, Martin said.

Traffic is being limited to one direction because the section of road is narrow, leaving little space for contracting equipment and cars, Martin said. The overhaul includes work on water, sewer and drainage systems.

“At the end of 90 days, it’s going back to two ways,” he said.

Like Rollins, Martin stressed that business on Mount Vernon Avenue will remain open.

“We’re going to affect them, obviously, but we want to affect them as little as possible,” he said.

The state will use the period during the detour to gauge traffic on Townsend Road and Marketplace Drive to determine whether the left turn out of the Markeplace should remain permanent. Martin said the biggest concerns are safety and traffic flow. The concern is that left-turning vehicles could back up traffic exiting Marketplace Drive and Townsend Road at the Northern Avenue intersection.

“We don’t want any backups or delays,” Martin said. “We have to monitor the situation to make sure we’re not going to create any delays by leaving it.”

He said the state will put out counters during the detour period to see how many vehicles are using the roads.

Rollins said he has heard from property owners at the Northern Avenue end of Townsend Road who fear permitting the left turn out of Marketplace Drive will increase traffic at the intersection, which could create traffic jams that will make it hard for them to get in and out of their driveways.

“We’ve heard there are some people who aren’t in favor of it,” Rollins said.

If the traffic study proves favorable to making the left turn permanent, Martin said, state and city officials would have to hammer out an agreement that would make the city responsible for correcting any problems in the intersections that arise in the future.

“I’m hoping we can keep it,” Martin said. “I think we’re all hoping it works efficiently.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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