AUGUSTA — City councilors voted to change traffic flow downtown from one-way to two-way.

Councilors voted 5-2 in favor of the controversial proposal to open up the heart of the downtown, which currently is configured for only one-way traffic in a northerly direction, to traffic flowing in both directions.

Advocates for the change said it would help revitalize downtown by bringing more traffic through it, instead of forcing drivers coming from the northern end to go around downtown, and thus expose businesses there to more potential customers, and also improve pedestrian safety by slowing traffic.

Ehrin Simanski, who owns downtown business Lisa’s Legit Burritos with her husband, Jay, said they’ve found Augusta to be a wonderful city since they moved there, but it needs to offer more to visitors. She said two-way traffic would help draw people, including tourists, and more interest from business owners, to downtown Augusta.

“We have to step it up. We have to make it better,” Simanski said. “And this two-way traffic is going to blow people out of the water. I think we’ll have people knocking down our doors, trying to come into downtown Augusta.”

Opponents said the change isn’t needed, so it wouldn’t be worth spending money to do it. It will take away much-needed parking spaces, they said, also expressing concern that it could alter traffic patterns in the city harmfully.

The proposal to change the now-one-way, roughly 800-foot-long middle section of Water Street to two-way traffic through downtown was sponsored by four of the eight city councilors.

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.

It is also expected to take away 11 to 16 parking spaces, to allow for turning lanes and loading zones, though downtown advocates said loading zones can be created off Water Street without taking away parking.

Mayor David Rollins said in his 12 years as mayor and a councilor, he’s never gotten more unsolicited feedback on any other proposal than he has on the two-way traffic proposal. He said the vast majority of residents he’s heard from are against the change. However, some city councilors said they’ve had the opposite feedback from their constituents, and that a vast majority are in favor of the change.

Some residents asked city councilors last week to send the question to residents in a referendum question.

At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien sponsored an alternative order on Thursday’s council agenda that would have done just that. His proposal, which councilors rejected, 5-2, would change Water Street to two-way traffic, but only if residents also vote in favor of a referendum question that would go to them at the polls Nov. 6, asking if they favor making the change.

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said much of the $124,000 estimated cost to make the change would be for improvements, such as improved access by people with disabilities, which need to be done downtown eventually anyway. He said only about $45,000 of the cost is directly related to traffic flow.

However, City Manager William Bridgeo recommended last week that if councilors decide to make the change, they also should consider adding funding for the Public Works Department, because removing snow downtown is expected to be more challenging if traffic is moving both ways.

About 30 people attended the meeting.

The ordinance changes take effect in 90 days.

The change also is subject to approval by the state Department of Transportation.

The downtown street had two-way traffic previously many years ago, switching to one-way July 15, 1945. Sanford Fogg Jr., mayor at the time, announced the plan to convert both Water Street and the parallel Commercial Street, one block to the west, to one-way traffic, in opposite directions from each other, May 28, 1945, and said it had been worked out by then-police Chief Vernard W. Dudley. The goal of the change, according to a May 29, 1945, Kennebec Journal report, was to speed up traffic. Fogg was quoted in that day’s paper as saying the police chief believed the change in traffic flow, to one-way, “will clear Water Street faster and I think we should give it a trial.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.