AUGUSTA — Four city councilors are sponsoring ordinance changes that collectively would allow the historic conversion of Water Street in downtown Augusta from one-way to two-way traffic.

The concept of changing the flow of traffic through the heart of the city’s downtown has been discussed off and on for many years. A study done earlier this year concluded doing so is possible but would require the elimination of several parking spots, prompting renewed and often vigorous discussion.

Thursday’s meeting of councilors would be the first time city councilors have a formal proposal to make the change before them for consideration.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant, Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind and At-Large Councilor Corey Wilson all signed on to sponsor ordinance changes required to make the change, and move the proposal forward, that will be taken up for the first time at Thursday’s council meeting.

“I’m growing impatient, a little bit, with this,” Lind said at a discussion of the issue at last week’s informational council meeting. “We’ve had a lot of facts presented and I don’t think good decisions should be held back waiting for more facts. The downtown alliance, they’re closest to the situation. They have the real insight that I don’t have. So I don’t want to impede the imagination and vision that’s been going on. So I’d like to move it forward. Can we at least present a statement of intent, that the majority of the council would like to move ahead with two-way traffic?”

Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit group focused on revitalizing the downtown area, said experts and all studies they’ve looked at indicate having two-way traffic in historic downtowns increases traffic, improves pedestrian safety and brings improved economics for downtown businesses.

“We believe this is the least expensive way to get the most results,” Hall said.

Converting the street, which is now one-way between Winthrop and Bridge streets, is expected to cost about $124,000, including the cost of repaving, updating traffic signals, modifying a traffic island at the corner of Water and Winthrop streets, making all crosswalks compliant with handicapped-accessibility rules and repainting lines for streets, crosswalks and parking spots.

Mayor David Rollins said he has no problem with the proposal moving ahead for consideration at this week’s council business meeting, but that he still has concerns about spending taxpayer money on the project, which, he said, largely would benefit downtown building and business owners. Without naming any, he said some such owners don’t seem to be doing much to improve things downtown, or for themselves, despite city efforts to help revitalize downtown. He said a vast majority of residents he has talked to about the proposal are opposed to making the change.

“In my personal polling there is not a lot of support from the taxpayers in general for this,” Rollins said, noting the city has provided tax breaks and direct funding in recent years to try to help spur downtown development. “At some point you can’t point the finger at the taxpayer and say keep giving and giving, yet the people who are going to benefit from that giving, the owners of the buildings … are not working on their upper floors and not working on their retail spaces. How much more are we going to be asked to give before they start giving back?”

Proposed changes to city ordinances regulating parking and the flow of traffic require two readings, and no vote is taken upon the first reading.

Councilors are scheduled to hold only the first reading of the proposed changes Thursday. City Manager William Bridgeo said after Thursday’s discussion, councilors could have a follow-up discussion at an informational meeting July 12, and could hold a second reading and vote July 19.

Councilors are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the council chamber at Augusta City Center.

Councilors also are scheduled to:

• Certify results from the June election;

• Swear-in the recently-elected Jennifer Dumond to an at-large seat on the Board of Education;

• Consider accepting the donation of two snow groomers and other trail grooming equipment, and a warming shelter, from Augusta Trails for use at Bond Brook Recreation Area;

• Consider approving 2 percent raises for non-union employees, consistent with salary adjustments made for the city’s union employees; and

• Consider an ordinance change to allow city councilors, upon recommendation of the city manager, to waive a requirement that the fire chief be a resident of the city.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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