WATERVILLE — A traffic study tied to downtown revitalization efforts that includes a proposal to turn Main Street downtown from one- to two-way traffic will likely go before the public next month.

City Manager Michael Roy said Monday that Gorrill Palmer, an engineering consulting firm from South Portland, would be sending the proposal and concept ideas to the state Department of Transportation Monday, and state officials will spend a couple of weeks reviewing it.

“Hopefully early October is when the public will get a first chance to see the proposal for making Main Street two-way,” Roy said. “That’s what this is all about. The consultant has been laboring over the design all summer along with the city and Colby and DOT and trying to work out all the different obstacles that would have to be overcome with switching the street from one-way to two-way. By the end of this month, we’ll be able to set a date for the first exposure to the public of this.”

Main Street traffic was changed from two-way to one-way in 1957, according to Waterville historian Bill Arnold. At the time, Arnold was chairman of the merchants division of the local chamber of commerce, which was made up primarily of downtown merchants, Arnold said Monday. He recalled that many merchants were vehemently opposed to making Main Street one-way, but the City Council voted to make it one-way.

“The issue really was discussed all through the summer and early fall,” Arnold recalled.

He said a three-week trial period was conducted, and then in October 1957, the council voted to make Main Street one-way permanently.

The traffic study was launched in February to look at current and future traffic and parking issues in light of efforts to revitalize downtown. The city hired Gorrill Palmer for $102,000 to do the study, which was funded equally by the city, state and Colby.

Colby bought five buildings downtown and plans to tear down four of them. It also is going to buy the northeast corner of The Concourse downtown to build a student housing complex that will have retail on the first floor. Also, Collaborative Consulting, a technology firm now located at Hathaway Creative Center, is expected to move into the upper two floors of 173 Main St. once Colby has renovated that building, also known as the Hains Building. Collaborative expects to have about 200 people working for the company in Waterville in the next five years.

The revitalization effort is expected to bring more people to live, work, shop and recreate downtown, and with all the planned development, the city is reviewing what impact those changes would have on vehicle and pedestrian traffic, parking and bicycling.

Several public meetings were held this spring to discuss traffic issues and get input from businesses and residents for the traffic study. Discussions included how traffic changes could affect business deliveries and how parking would be affected. Consultants said a system of parking for the entire downtown would be developed.

Gorrill Palmer worked with BFJ Planning of New York City and Mitchell Associates of Portland on the study, which explored how to make Main Street two-way to slow down traffic and make downtown safer and more conducive to motorists and pedestrians.

Last year, Gorrill Palmer did a study of the intersection at Main, Spring and Water streets, just south of downtown, to explore how best to help improve pedestrian access from downtown to Hathaway on Water Street and make the intersection safer for traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists..

City Engineer Greg Brown said Monday that by the end of this week, he expects to have a firm schedule from the consultants as to when the study will be done and ready to present to the public. He said issues related to parking are still being worked on.

In his submission for the city’s annual report, Brown said it is an interesting time to be involved in economic development in Waterville as revitalization efforts are ongoing:

“Solving this ‘puzzle’ is a bit like aligning all of the squares on a Rubik’s Cube. Making a change in one area to meet a specific goal invariably changes patterns and operation of a remote location. While the individual goals of each are well defined, working out the details to mesh the entire system into a seamless model is far more difficult and time consuming.”

Brown said Waterville is poised to achieve economic growth.

“Many developers are inquiring about establishing a presence in our community,” he wrote in his report. “Providing positive and timely information to these developers is critical to allow them to evaluate their options. Looking just over the horizon, I see challenges and successes that will define Waterville’s future. Based on the increase in development inquiries, the future holds significant promise.”

Michael Giroux, owner of Berry’s Stationers at 153 Main St. downtown, said he looks forward to learning the outcome of the traffic study and any plans that come with it. He thinks the downtown revitalization effort is great, but wonders how the traffic and parking system will work.

“It’ll be interesting to see,” he said. “Overall, I haven’t had any full picture of anything. It’s just thoughts and ideas thrown around.” Berry’s has been in existence since 1897 and originally was where The Concourse is now, according to Giroux. It moved to the space now occupied by Holy Cannoli and Napoli Italian Market and then moved to its current site on the east side of Main Street 17 years ago.

Giroux said he heard proposals about making Main Street two-way and widening the sidewalks so tables and chairs may be placed there, but the warm season for outdoor dining only lasts a few months and then winter comes and then those areas will have to be cleared of snow and ice. He also wonders how the traffic scenario will look if Front Street becomes two-way as well.

“I don’t know what that does to people driving around town,” he said.

Amy Cyrway, who owns The Framemakers downtown, said she can not see Main Street being two-way. It is a narrow street compared to those in Hallowell and Brunswick and because of elevation differences between Main Street and East Concourse in Waterville, deliveries by large freight trucks would be difficult, she said.

If Main Street were restricted to local traffic and deliveries only with a bypass for U.S. Route 201 — either for Elm Street or Benton Avenue in Winslow to be re-routed for commercial freight similar to how coastal communities on U.S. Route 201 have alternative routes for thru-traffic — and the speed limit was dropped to encourage pedestrian traffic, then such a scenario could work, according to Cyrway.

“But as it is in a set-up for two-way traffic, I can not see how it could remain both a thru-way for a state highway and a pedestrian-friendly business district,” she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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