WATERVILLE — Addressing current and future traffic and parking issues in light of a big effort to revitalize downtown was the focus of a meeting held Monday to kick off the Waterville Downtown Transportation Study.

About 25 city, Colby College and state Department of Transportation officials, as well as city councilors, economic development specialists and business leaders met at The Center downtown to discuss the study headed up by Gorrill Palmer consulting engineers of Gray. The city hired the firm for $102,000 to do the study, which is funded equally by the city, the transportation department and Colby and is slated to be complete by the end of June.

Colby has bought five buildings downtown and is seeking to buy a 0.77-acre parcel on The Concourse for $300,000 to build a dormitory for staff, students and faculty. The City Council will vote on the purchase at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The college also expects to partner with investors to renovate other buildings and create retail shops and possibly a boutique hotel. Colby alumnus Thomas DePre and his family also have bought two buildings downtown and are renovating them, and local businessman Bill Mitchell bought and is renovating two historic buildings on Common Street.

City and Colby officials have said they hope the changes will bring more people to live, work, shop and recreate downtown.

With all of the planned development, city officials need to gauge what impact the changes will have on vehicle and pedestrian traffic, parking and bicycling among other things. The study seeks to address all those issues and to recommend possible action for improvement.

Randy Dunton, senior engineer for Gorrill Palmer, ran Monday’s two-hour meeting, at which he spelled out the goals, purpose and need of the study and described prior studies. He also emphasized the importance of public outreach to the process.

The study, he said, would include reviewing available data on traffic volume and related information, assessing future scenarios, identifying deficiencies that exist with bike and pedestrian issues, doing a transit analysis, developing recommendations and issuing final reports.

Dunton said the study schedule is aggressive, and officials hope to complete it within five months.

“The goal is to have it completely done at least by July 1,” Dunton said. “We’re going to do our best to get it done a bit early.”

Monday’s was the first of four meetings to be held with the participating parties, including BFJ Planning of New York City, Mitchell & Associates of Portland and Milone MacBroom of Cheshire, Conn. Dunton said two public meetings at which the public will be able to ask questions and comment on the study also will be held toward the end of the process, likely in May or June.

City Engineer Greg Brown emphasized that it is a public process, and Dunton agreed.

Gorrill Palmer last year did a study of the Main, Spring and Water streets intersection just south of downtown to explore how best to help improve pedestrian access from downtown to Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street and to make the intersection safer for traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists. Exploring returning Main Street to two-way traffic, as it was many years ago, will be part of the study.

With possible changes in traffic patterns, officials must look at various functions that may be affected, including deliveries to businesses.

“We want to identify what businesses get deliveries and when do they get them because if we’re going to be modifying things — the roadway — we need to know that,” Dunton said.

City Manager Michael Roy asked what additional parking surveys would be done as part of the study.

“Parking is a real concern of mine,” he said.

Dunton said a thorough parking study was done previously and officials intend to identify how parking areas, both those that are busy and not busy now, would be affected with future development.

“We’ll take a previous study and step it up a notch,” he said.

Roy said he would expect another survey to be done, but agreed to proceed with the study and identify how many buildings would be developed, what increase in vehicle traffic would be expected for commercial and residential uses and so forth. Dunton explained various scenarios related to parking. He said in a downtown, having mixed uses can be complementary in that residential and office people can share parking spaces.

“Those all have peak parking demands at different times,” he said.

Roy said that if the city were to get metered parking in the future, for instance, city officials must know that a decision to have it is based on the best data they can get. Roy has said in the past that development in downtown Waterville is contingent on transportation and traffic issues having been ironed out.

Robert Sezak, owner of Re-books on The Concourse, asked Dunton what weight is being given to the possibility of adding covered parking or a parking garage in the city.

Dunton said the study will look at parking supply and demand, where they are now in the city, what they will be in the future and whether needs can be met. If not, alternatives would be explored. Obviously, he said, parking garages are costly. Brown said the city is being open-minded regarding parking. Sezak noted there are parking garages in cities such as Portland, Lewiston and Bangor that can be looked at as models.

Dunton said an email address will be developed for people to submit comments on the study. While all questions may not be individually answered, officials will try to group similar concerns together and address them. City Councilor Jackie Dupont, D-Ward 7, recommended that pressing or large concerns be addressed and answers or explanations be given to the public.

“Those are items that we’ll make sure we hit when we do the public presentations,” Dunton said.

Sezak asked that information about possible future passenger rail service to Waterville be included in the study. “It shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said.

“No — absolutely not,” Dunton replied.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 


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