Starting today a half mile section of Augusta road goes only north toward hospital

AUGUSTA — Starting Monday morning, part of Mount Vernon Avenue becomes a one-way street headed north, leaving drivers looking to go south into the city from the Civic Center Drive area to find other ways to get there.

The decision to keep the road open to one-way traffic headed north, not south, was made in large part because the biggest priority was to not impede ambulances and other public safety vehicles rushing to MaineGeneral Medical Center’s hospital in north Augusta.

While those ambulances, police cars and fire trucks will still need to return south to Hartford Station on Water Street, other fire stations or the police department on Union Street, they’re much less likely to be in a rush coming from the hospital than going to it.

“We asked for it to be northbound, headed out of town, so anybody who is going to the hospital is not delayed,” said David Groder, deputy fire chief. “We generally haven’t been taking (Mount Vernon Avenue) anyway, because the road was so rough for patient care.”

The roughness of the road is what’s behind the major, $4.3 million reconstruction project that is expected to continue through June of next year.

The one-way restriction won’t be nearly that long, and, as specified in the contract for the work, the road is expected to return to two-way traffic within three months, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The section of the major thoroughfare through the city to be restricted to one-way is only about a half-mile long, from Mill Street near the Bond Brook Bridge just north of the Bond and Boothby street intersection to a fuel depot just south of Augusta Florist. The rest of Mount Vernon Avenue will remain open to traffic in both directions.

Ernie Martin, project manager for the state transportation department, said that section will be one way for up to 90 days because it is too narrow to allow two-way traffic as contractors work to rip up and reconstruct the road and work on drainage and other infrastructure there.

He, too, said the northbound direction was chosen out of public safety concerns and the location of the hospital.

“There has been a lot of early dialogue and planning with the city of Augusta, fire and police. That’s why we’re headed northbound,” Martin said Friday. “You want ambulances and others to be able to go north as quickly as they can, and on the way back they can take an alternate route. The northbound decision was purely one of safety. If the hospital was on the other side of the river, (the one-way direction of travel) would probably be the other way.”

The city’s public safety workers are ready, though the changes and contingencies they’ve put in place are fairly minor, in part because they were involved in planning for the reconstruction-related one-way restriction since well before work started.

Jared Mills, deputy police chief, said other than planning for the change in traffic flow, the one-way should have little impact on city police.

He said the city’s patrol cars are spread out in different zones of the city, so there will be a patrol car assigned, as usual, to the northern part of the city, so it can respond to calls in that area without having to travel through the one-way part of Mount Vernon Avenue.

“It’s not as if we’d have to respond (to that area) from another part of the city, because we always have a police car in that area 24 hours a day,” Mills said. “We don’t expect public safety to be impacted to any great extent by the detour.”

The most likely alternate routes for traffic in the Augusta Civic Center and Marketplace at Augusta retail area that might normally take Mount Vernon Avenue south include Townsend Road to Northern Avenue, Interstate 95, or Leighton Road, depending on where traffic is trying to go, Mills noted.

Mills anticipates there may be some traffic delays, most likely where Townsend Road intersects with Northern Avenue, and possibly also the Civic Center Drive and Townsend Road intersection. He said there would be extra patrols in that area to make sure motorists follow traffic laws.

He urges drivers to be patient.

“The Townsend Road and Northern Avenue intersection is where most of the concern is, and Civic Center Drive and Townsend could be an issue as well,” Mills said. “But DOT has a good plan to keep traffic flowing in those areas. We appreciate the public’s patience with this project. It is extremely necessary to have this road resurfaced to be as safe as possible. The condition of (Mount Vernon Avenue) has been an issue for a long time. We hope it’ll be done in a timely fashion with as least disruption as possible.”

As part of the construction project, left-hand turns out of the Marketplace onto Townsend Road, previously banned, will be allowed, at least during the project. City officials have lobbied state officials to make that change permanent. Martin said the state will monitor traffic numbers there and could consider making that change long-term.

Groder and Mills said if for some reason emergency vehicles need to travel south on the half-mile of one-way road on Mount Vernon, they can communicate with flaggers and close down traffic to allow that, though neither anticipated a need to do so.

Groder said the only potential delay related to the one-way for firefighters could be if there were a fire in a building on that one-way section. Even then, he said, the response isn’t likely to be delayed. He said firefighters at Hartford would still be able to get to a fire there directly, coming north, and firefighters from the fire station on Bangor Street would take an alternate route and approach from the north instead of coming south on Mount Vernon Avenue. He said they’ve done time trials on the alternate routes, and the response time was about the same as it would be before the change.

Martin said the state will monitor traffic flow and could make tweaks if needed.

He said businesses on Mount Vernon Avenue will remain open and have access during construction.

The one-way restriction is expected to take effect before morning commuting hours Monday.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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