AUGUSTA — City councilors plan to move ahead with a proposal to change the traffic flow through downtown from one-way to two-way traffic on Water Street.

Some councilors said they still haven’t decided whether the city should make the change because they haven’t yet gotten much input from residents about what they want. But they said that input might not come until residents realize the city is considering the change seriously and a vote is pending.

So all eight city councilors and Mayor David Rollins have agreed to sponsor an ordinance change which, if approved following the required two readings, would change the middle section of Water Street in the heart of the downtown from a one-way street to two-way. The street used to be two-way many decades ago.

City councilors have discussed the idea of changing downtown to two-way traffic multiple times, but they didn’t allow public comment at one of the sessions, and a public forum held specifically to get input on the idea earlier this month drew only a few vocal participants, most of whom were downtown merchants or building owners.

Officials expressed concern about making what City Manager William Bridgeo described as a major policy decision without more input from residents and other members of the public.

“I support the downtown and I do hear this will help downtown, economically; but I feel it has been this way for so long, we need more public input” before making the change, At-large Councilor Marci Alexander said. “It’s a big decision.”

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said the best way to get the public to show up and weigh in on the topic is to propose to change the city ordinance to move from one-way to two-way traffic downtown, and move it forward to a first reading and then a final vote, both of which could include public hearings. She said people won’t come out to express their opinions of concerns about the change if they don’t think the council is going to take an actual vote on it.

Conti is among several councilors who said they want to make the change to two-way traffic, which downtown advocates have said could bring economic vitality to the downtown by increasing the amount of traffic and thus better exposure for businesses there.

She said driving through neighboring downtown Hallowell, which normally has traffic flowing both ways but, because of a major ongoing construction project, is currently only one-way, with southbound traffic detoured around downtown Water Street, showed her the potential benefits of changing Augusta to two-way traffic flow.

“Now that Hallowell is one-way, I can go down to Gardiner when I’m headed in a southern direction, and not see a bit of downtown Hallowell,” Conti said Thursday. “Because now it’s one-way, which is what we are. Back when Hallowell was two-way, I was forced to slow down and go through slowly, and I could see everything on both sides of the street and what businesses there had to offer. My own personal experience is I think it’s worth trying.”

Rollins suggested posing an advisory referendum question to voters, to find out at the polls how most residents feel about the proposed change.

He said the input the city has received so far, in favor of the change, has come primarily from downtown merchants, not from residents of the rest of the city.

He said the people he has talked to about it have been overwhelmingly opposed to the change.

At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien said the feedback he’s heard about it has been mixed, and he hasn’t made up his mind yet. He suggested a combined approach, of having a public hearing on the proposal first, to see how much input is received from the public. If few people weigh in at the hearing or hearings, O’Brien said, the city could put it before residents as an advisory referendum question in November.

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.

Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, which has primarily downtown merchants as its members, told city councilors Thursday every study he can find of downtowns similar to Augusta’s changing from one-way to two-way traffic flow showed universal benefits resulting from the change.

He said one of the biggest changes when traffic flow is changed to two-way is an increase in the number of drivers who come through downtowns.

“If you’re a business owner, exposure to extra traffic cannot be understated. It’s a very big deal,” Hall said. “If you increase the number of vehicles by 25 an hour, that’s 25 more people coming into the downtown area that wouldn’t have before. Right now, we’re forcing (southbound traffic) to turn right, outside the downtown area. We feel as an organization this is the right thing to do for merchants and the people of Augusta, because it is going to have such a positive impact on the economy of Augusta.”

He said the alliance is willing to work with the city on ways to lessen the potential effect of losing parking spaces to make the change to two-way traffic.

Bridgeo said the city staff will need time to work on the proposed change and meet with state Department of Transportation officials, who, because it is a state road, would have authority to approve or reject the change.

He said the proposed ordinance change could be ready for the first of two required readings by council’s first business meeting in June, which is scheduled for June 7.

Fire Chief Roger Audette has expressed concern that firetrucks could have a harder time getting through downtown, from Hartford Station, which is on Rines Hill just above downtown Water Street, with two-way traffic, and state transportation department officials have said it would make snow removal more difficult.

In 2013 a visiting team of downtown experts spent time in downtown Augusta as part of Main Street Maine’s Maine Downtown Center program, looking for ways to help spur downtown revitalization. Their recommendations included studying, and maybe even trying a practice run at, switching Water Street to two-way traffic. They said statistics indicated downtowns with two-way traffic do better than those with only one-way streets.

Studying converting to two-way traffic was also included as one of the Augusta City Council’s goals for 2017.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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