AUGUSTA — Augusta City Council voted Thursday to ask the state Department of Transportation to make left turns out of the Marketplace at Augusta onto Townsend Road permanently legal.

Until recently, those turns were banned out of concern they would put too much traffic onto the residential Townsend Road. But the state allowed the turns as part of a detour during the now-winding-down reconstruction of Mount Vernon Avenue.

City officials said left turns never should have been made illegal at that spot and the ban has been an inconvenience for residents of Sand Hill and the surrounding area, forcing them to go out onto busy Civic Center Drive to return to their homes from the shopping area.

They also said traffic on Townsend Road remained manageable during the Mount Vernon Avenue reconstruction project, so the turns should continue to be allowed for the foreseeable future.

Ward 3 Councilor Patrick Paradis, who took office in 2008, said residents approached him before he had even been sworn-in as a councilor to complain about not being able to turn left legally at that intersection. He said it was a “sore point” for many residents of neighborhoods accessed via Townsend Road and Northern Avenue, with which it intersects not far from the Marketplace Drive intersection.

“I’ve been using the left-hand turn to leave the Marketplace since the construction of Mount Vernon Avenue was still going on,” said resident Mary Saunders. “I found it somewhat easier to go up Townsend” than travel onto Civic Center Drive.

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Saunders suggested the city and state look into installing a traffic signal at the intersection. She said when you are pulling out of Marketplace Drive onto Townsend, it can be hard to see traffic on Townsend if another car is turning.

Bridgeo said he would look into whether a traffic signal was warranted there.

Many drivers, before being allowed to do so, illegally took left turns out of the Marketplace over the last few years.

That includes at-large Councilor Marci Alexander who said, “I’ve taken that left before it was a left.”

Transportation department officials were initially hesitant to allow left turns permanently out of concern it could increase traffic on Townsend Road, which in turn could lead to congestion at the intersection of Townsend Road and Northern Avenue nearby.

Paradis said allowing left turns directly onto Townsend Road did not seem to add significantly to traffic on Townsend.

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City Manager William Bridgeo said state transportation officials have indicated they are set to allow left turns there permanently, but wanted a formal indication that city officials want to do so before proceeding. Councilors voted 8-0 Thursday to make that request.

Paradis said the city owes Ernie Martin, project manager of the Mount Vernon Avenue project, thanks for being open to considering allowing left turns onto Townsend Road to remain.

In other business, councilors also approved a Historic District Ordinance.

The ordinance has been controversial, with some residents of the initially proposed district complaining about requirements that most exterior renovations to their homes would have to be approved by a new city board. However, councilors and Mayor David Rollins, who was chairman of the committee that proposed the ordinance, have since agreed to adopt the ordinance without defining the physical district where the new rules will apply. The ordinance instead will create the new Augusta Historic District Review Board, a committee of local residents, and that board will have the responsibility of proposing the boundaries that will determine what parts of the city and which homes and other buildings are within the district

Councilors approved the ordinance in a 7-1 vote. At-large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau, the lone vote in opposition, did not comment Thursday but previously has spoken against the ordinance, saying he doesn’t believe the city should tell people what they should do with their homes, or which windows they should choose for renovations.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

kedwards@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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