HALLOWELL — The City Council voted to instruct the city manager to execute a Maine Department of Transportation contract for the upcoming Water Street reconstruction project, while also unanimously voting to instruct the Maine Department of Transportation to look into adding a fifth crosswalk to the plan.

According to the contract, the city of Hallowell will pay the Maine DOT $521,812.70 for its portion of the total cost of the department’s work to reconstruct a 2,000-foot stretch of the busy corridor. The funds were allocated as part of a $2.36 million bond package approved by Hallowell voters in April 2017.

The crosswalk in question at Dummers Lane was removed several years ago because it didn’t comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and it was not included in the Highway Committee’s recommended plan to the DOT when it was presented.

Liberal Cup owner Geoff Houghton submitted a petition with 204 signatures in support of returning that crosswalk at Dummers Lane to the DOT plan.

“It’s the most used crossing in town in the busiest part of town,” Houghton said. “It’s a public safety issue.”

DOT Project Manager Ernie Martin said consideration was given to bringing back the crosswalk, but ultimately, losing three or four parking spaces was not worth it to city officials and the transportation department. Martin said he’d go to upper management at the DOT and ask about returning the crosswalk, and he said there would be no change in the project timeline.

“We looked at what were the big issues that citizens were asking for, and it was parking,” said Councilor Michael Frett, a member of the highway committee.

Martin said DOT policy doesn’t allow for mid-street crosswalks, so a change order would have to be made by someone higher in the department. Bids for the project went out at the end of January and will be opened Feb. 21; the road construction is scheduled to begin in mid-April.

“It’s just a busy intersection and people are crossing there all the time,” Houghton said. “This would be an obvious improvement.”

The Hallowell Board of Trade voted to support the addition of the crosswalk to the plan, and president Wes Littlefield said there was no question among members of the board about whether to recommend the crosswalk.

Houghton, Susan Farnsworth and others who spoke in favor of the crosswalk said the most important aspect of the proposal was ensuring public safety.

“(Water Street) is fairly pedestrian-friendly,” Houghton said. “I’d like to see that maintained.”

In a contributed column earlier this month in the Kennebec Journal, Douglas Rooks criticized the DOT’s $5 million project and said it doesn’t have any pedestrian amenities. He said all Hallowell and anyone who drives on Water Street will get is a flatter, faster road and more parking.

“Hallowell has missed a golden opportunity to do something more than build a better road,” Rooks wrote. He said ideas about slowing traffic to make life easier for pedestrians, such as curb extensions — bump-outs — to reduce pavement width, were dismissed by then-Councilor Alan Stearns, who was the chairman of the city’s Highway Committee.

Rooks compared Water Street in Hallowell to a busy pedestrian intersection and business district in Bangor and said Hallowell, with “a different political and planning direction,” could still become that, but not soon, he said.

The subject of curb extensions has been discussed at public forums and council meetings since the project was announced in 2012. In May 2016, urban planner Brian Kent spoke for 30 minutes during a council meeting about curb extensions, and he also hosted a public forum in April 2016 to present his own plan for Water Street. His plan championed bump-outs, which are designed to calm traffic and increase pedestrian safety.

Bump-outs were initially discussed when planning began six years ago, but the safety measure did not have widespread support among city officials or the Maine DOT. Kent and others touted bump-outs as a way to increase safety for those crossing Water Street, especially during high-volume summer months. Accident statistics show just 49 reported accidents on Water Street from 2013 to 2015, including nine at the intersection of Winthrop and Water streets.

Councilor Diano Circo said the council decided not to implement bump-outs because of the loss of parking spaces.

It was clear, though, that the people who spoke Monday were in favor of sacrificing parking spaces in the interest of public safety.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to let us win one,” Maggie Warren said, which got a laugh from everyone in attendance. “This whole thing is going to be crap.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

 

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