AUGUSTA — Advocates for switching the traffic flow on Water Street through downtown from one-way to two-way traffic told city councilors the current one-way traffic pattern is confusing and forces people approaching the northern end of downtown to drive around it, not through.

Downtown business and building owners urged councilors to take a leadership role and provide a vote of confidence in the downtown by investing in changing the traffic flow in hope of bringing more people into downtown Augusta.

Casey Hynes, a partner in downtown brew pub and restaurant Cushnoc Brewing, said when he was asked by his partners to join the business, he had two concerns about investing there — parking and the one-way traffic flow limiting the number of drivers who pass by the business.

He said he has since had no problems finding space to park in Augusta, though he said the available parking needs to be made easier to find. But he remains concerned that the middle section of Water Street is one-way only, which prevents drivers coming from the north from being able to drive downtown without first driving around, and coming back the other way.

“Having to go around, that’s a natural deterrent,” Hynes told city councilors Thursday. “Right now the traffic pattern is forcing them to go away from my business, I’d rather not have that as an option.”

He said even if motorists don’t stop at his business, by traveling in both directions through downtown, they at least would be able to see what is there and what’s going on.

Resident Mary Saunders said anybody visiting a city, even a small one, for the first time tends to find that having one-way streets makes it harder to figure out how to get around that city. She recalled seeing a driver with out-of-state plates at the Bridge Street intersection, being able to see where he wanted to go on the other side of the intersection, but because of the one-way restriction, was obviously frustrated that he couldn’t tell how to get there.

As they considered ordinance changes, for the first time, that would convert the street to two-way traffic, city councilors still had numerous questions about the proposal, including whether any intersections will need new traffic signals, whether firefighters would be slowed in responding to emergencies, how much it will really cost, and whether downtown has a high number of accidents now.

City Manager William Bridgeo said city staff members are working to provide information about the change to councilors.

Mayor David Rollins, who normally wouldn’t vote on ordinance changes, speculated he might need to vote on the two-way traffic issue, if city councilors end up with a tie vote on the proposal. He told supporters of the change that if the council votes against the change, it doesn’t mean they aren’t passionate about reviving downtown; it just means they don’t necessarily agree changing the flow of traffic downtown would be beneficial enough to justify the cost.

“I think different people can see this differently. It’s a tough issue,” he said. “The nature of that investment seems speculative to me. There are other investments with more certainty for a return.”

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

A study done earlier this year concluded doing so is possible but would require the elimination of at least a dozen parking spots to make room for the change.

Thursday’s meeting was the first time city councilors considered a formal proposal to make the change and move the proposal forward.

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. Some of those projects would need to be done eventually, even without the change, officials said.

Councilors held only the first of two readings required for passage and did not vote on the proposal Thursday. Proposed changes to city ordinances require two readings, with no vote taken upon the first reading.

Councilors could have a follow-up discussion on two-way traffic downtown at an informational meeting July 12, and could hold a second reading and vote July 19.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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