AUGUSTA — Downtown advocates are saying changing traffic flow on Water Street from one-way to two-way traffic would bring much-needed vitality to the retail corridor, by bringing more traffic through the downtown instead of turning it away and forcing potential customers to drive around.

The findings of a traffic study by a consultant hired by the city to look into the feasibility of changing to two-way traffic the one-way section downtown, between Bridge and Winthrop streets, determined it is possible to make the change, though doing so would cost about $100,000 and would eliminate 11 to 16 parking spaces.

Wednesday, at a public forum on the issue, people who live, work or own businesses and buildings downtown said the change could provide a boost for downtown businesses by welcoming traffic coming from the north, which currently is forced, instead of taking Water Street, to go around the center of the city’s riverfront downtown.

“As a business owner, it’s easy for us to focus on the potential lost parking spots, that’s not lost on me,” said Tobias Parkhurst, co-owner of businesses, including Cushnoc Brewing, and buildings downtown, and chairman of the Augusta Parking District. “But the other thing not lost on me is we’ve got a 60 percent plus vacancy rate downtown. And while we’ve enjoyed some success lately, and that’s great, we’re not even halfway there.”

Michael Hall, director of Augusta Downtown Alliance, a downtown advocacy group with many downtown merchants as members, said he’s looked into the issue in depth and saw the results of 11 studies done in cities which changed historic downtowns from one-way to two-way traffic. He said the studies showed each change resulted in an improved pedestrian safety, increased property values, and increased retail activity due to factors including increased exposure for businesses due to increased traffic.

“One of the most important factors I’ve seen, living down there, is coming up on Bridge Street, you are forced to make that right-hand turn, and you’re missing the prime retail corridor downtown,” Hall said. “That’s stressful for people and they don’t want to come back. Is it a 100 percent economic panacea? No. But when 11 different case studies are coming back with the exact same results, and all the results are a net positive, it shows something is definitely going right with one-way to two-way conversions.”

Heather Pouliot, president of the board of directors of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said the board voted last week in favor of changing downtown to two-way traffic.

Considering changing the flow of traffic was recommended by a team of downtown experts who visited Augusta in 2013, as a way to help spur vitality and slow traffic.

City and state officials have expressed concerns that changing Water Street to two-way traffic could make it harder for firetrucks to get through and make snow removal a challenge.

Fire Chief Roger Audette reiterated his concerns Wednesday, saying he’s concerned the change could make it more difficult for firetrucks and rescue vehicles to get through downtown. Hartford Station, the Fire Department’s headquarters, is on Rines Hill, just above the southern end of downtown.

He expressed concern that with two-way traffic motorists stopped at intersections would have no place to go and not enough room to pull over to the side, and thus could block firetrucks from getting through.

He said widening the road, perhaps by making the sidewalk on one side of the street narrower to provide more street space, could give motorists more room to pull to the side to let fire trucks pass.

“There are many streets in Augusta we go down all the time that are the same width; the difference with this is it’s a major route for us,” Audette said of Water Street. “We use this to get to the east side of the city and straight up Northern Avenue. We’re not opposed to it, we just, obviously, have concerns.”

Lionel Cayer, city engineer, advised against narrowing Water Street sidewalks to make the street wider. He said the space is needed on the sidewalk to have streetscape, such as trees, downtown.

The study by Diane Morabito of Maine Traffic Resources, commissioned by the city at a cost of $19,000, determined changing the section of Water Street between Winthrop and Bridge streets from one-way to two-way traffic would require the elimination of 12 parking spaces on Water Street to accommodate the change in lane use, including the loss of seven on the northern end of that section of street to provide space for a 175-foot right-turn lane at the intersection of Water and Bridge streets. It also probably would take away two parking spaces on Oak Street and two on Commercial Street, to provide loading zones for deliveries by trucks to downtown businesses. Those loading zones would be necessary, she said, because now trucks can unload by stopping in a travel lane on Water Street, and traffic can simply go around them in the other lane.

When traffic is flowing both ways, that wouldn’t be possible without vehicles going into the oncoming lane to get around stopped trucks, so trucks will need somewhere else to unload deliveries.

Changes to accommodate the change would include either eliminating or replacing a traffic island at the intersection of Water and Winthrop streets so trucks coming south could turn right off Water onto Winthrop. Crosswalks on Water Street would need to be upgraded to meet current American’s with Disabilities Act standards. And traffic signals would have to be altered to reflect the new patterns.

The study recommends leaving Commercial Street, which is just above and parallel to Water Street and runs one way in the opposite direction, as a one-way street.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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