WATERVILLE — The City Council on Monday unanimously voted to enter into a $400,000 partnership with Colby College and the state Department of Transportation for preliminary engineering regarding the possibility of having two-way traffic on Main and Front streets downtown.

The council and public spent a large portion of the beginning of the meeting talking about scheduling a vote on a ban on plastic shopping bags at the city’s largest retailers. The Sustain Mid Main Coalition, which spearheaded the effort to create a ban, asked for a ban on plastic bags at retailers larger than 10,000 square feet be placed on the Nov. 6 general election.

Mayor Nick Isgro said he was skeptical of a ban, calling it a “slippery slope” to asking for a ban on Styrofoam and plastic straws.

“Next thing you know Waterville is the town that can’t have plastic straws,” he said.

Councilor Sydney Mayhew also expressed concerns about how it would impact businesses and the budget.

Stu Silverstein, a member of the Coalition’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse Recycle Team, said the ban was necessary to improve the environment, as the bags will sit in a landfill forever.

“Every piece of plastic that’s ever been created still exists in some form,” he said. “… The ordinance is not about recycling, it’s about banning something that should never have been manufactured in the first place.

Ultimately, the council did schedule the November vote by a margin of 4-1, with Mayhew in opposition.

In terms of the partnership regarding traffic, Colby and the DOT would provide the funding for this project, each putting in half, with the city acting as a facilitator and sponsor for he preliminary engineering and other required assessments for the potential change. Isgro also said the city has put forward a grant request for $8 million to the federal government for part of this project. Researching the feasibility of returning to two-way traffic on Main and Front streets came up during downtown revitalization conversations and before Colby began work on the $25 million mixed used student center and dormitory on Main Street. The council last September voted 7-0 to support a change in downtown traffic patterns that would make Main and Front streets two-way and include significant changes to intersections downtown.

On Monday, Isgro called it an “exciting” partnership, and that a project like this would benefit all Waterville tax payers.

City Council meetings are regularly on Tuesdays, but the council agreed to shift to Monday for this meeting to accommodate the South End National Night Out, a party in the South End, Tuesday night.

Prior to the meeting, Brian Clark, vice president of planning for Colby College, said the funding would be for the next phases of engineering of a conceptual study for possible two-way traffic, which would include intersection improvements and sidewalk improvements as well. He said it’s been about half a century since the city has experienced the level of infrastructure improvements being discussed here. He and Paul Urenek, Colby’s director of commercial real estate, said if this moves forward, there would be multiple points along the way for public meetings for residents to express their thoughts or concerns.

Clark said funding awards are usually announced in December for federal funding, and said the idea would be to begin work in 2020 or 2021, if the plans move forward. He said the idea of two-way traffic is to both slow down vehicular traffic on those streets and thereby reducing the number of accidents, but also to make the streets more pedestrian friendly, which would increase visibility on both sides of the downtown streets and thereby positively impact shopping.

“There are really tangible economic benefits,” he said.

In other business Monday night, councilors appointed Alek Fortier and Chris Rancourt to the Planning Board to fill recent vacancies. The seats became available when Lauren LePage and Jessica Laliberte resigned. Councilors were also slated to discuss declaring a vacancy for the council seat in Ward 3, which became available after Lauren Lessing announced she was leaving Waterville after accepting a job in Iowa. The council can decide whether to seek applicants now for the position or allow someone to be elected to it in November.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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