AUGUSTA — On Monday afternoon, motorists will be able to do something that in all likelihood none of them have ever done before — drive south on Water Street all the way through downtown Augusta.

For nearly 75 years, traffic has only flowed north on the downtown middle section of Water Street. But the street, following a couple of weeks of construction work, is expected to be opened up to two-way traffic sometime Monday afternoon, once signals to control the new flow of traffic are up and running.

Authorities acknowledge there may be some confusion at first, so they urge motorists and pedestrians to proceed with caution as everyone figures out the new downtown traffic pattern.

“People are going to have to look both ways for traffic that hasn’t come from a particular direction in 75 years,” said Nicholas Hartley, city engineer. “There is nothing about it that is terribly complicated from an engineering perspective.

“Traffic pattern changes happen often,” he added. “The big thing we’re concerned with is making sure everyone is aware of the new traffic pattern, and that there is going to be traffic coming two directions on Water Street.”

It’s not just motorists who need to be aware of changes, as change is afoot for pedestrians as well. Those changes include new diagonal crosswalks crisscrossing the intersection of Water and Bridge streets, in addition to the existing crosswalks crossing each street conventionally. Hartley said it may be the first such crosswalks in Maine. State Department of Transportation spokesman Paul Merrill confirmed that as far as they are aware, it is the only diagonal crosswalk in Maine.

The so-called “pedestrian scramble” style of crosswalks are expected to reduce the number of times a pedestrian looking to get to the opposite corner of a street has to cross a street. It would also reduce the number of times they have to activate a pedestrian crossing signal and stop traffic to do so.

Hartley said reducing the number of separate pedestrian crossings by allowing pedestrians to cross diagonally should improve safety.

Missy Horne Tobias, owner of The Hair Gallery which is near the Water and Bridge streets intersection, thinks the new diagonal crosswalks are a good idea, but only if people use them. She said many people don’t bother to cross in the crosswalks there now.

“I like that idea,” she said. “It’ll be much easier for people to get across the road diagonally, it should make it a little more people-friendly.”

Tobias is happy with numerous changes made in downtown Augusta in recent years, though she’s not in favor of the switch to two-way traffic, which she said isn’t necessary and is taking away parking which is already in short supply downtown. But she’s committed to make the best of the change, in large part because she believes it is part of an ongoing trend of downtown Augusta moving forward and improving. Tobias said additions such as new lighting in parks downtown look amazing, and some of the work done as part of the two-way conversion have been improvements to crosswalks and sidewalks, and a new coat of pavement on Water Street.

“I still think it’s a horrible idea,” she said of two-way traffic. “We’re already limited in parking to begin with. And this is taking away parking spots, it’s a huge amount of parking we’re losing.

“But in the end, we’re looking to make the downtown better, and this is a step toward that,” she added. “We have to deal with (the change to two-way) so we’ll make the best of it.”

While the project is expected to take away several parking spaces to allow for new turning lanes on Water Street, Hartley said nearly that many new parking spaces will be created as part of improvements planned on Commercial Street, which is just above Water Street. That project is expected to start shortly after the completion of the Water Street work. The net result, Hartley said, will be about the same number of parking spaces downtown after the work as there are now.

The nearly $200,000 project converting the street to two-way started last month. Water Street never closed fully to traffic, but parking was banned for one day while the street was repaved.

It was expected to be closed to parking again Sunday night to allow workers to put down stripes to mark parking spaces, and travel and turning lanes on the street.

For the first couple of days after the change, flaggers will be stationed at intersections downtown to help motorists find their way, and Augusta police will have extra patrols there as well. And Sgt. Christian Behr is featured in a video, posted on social media sites, explaining how the new traffic flow should work.

With the change, traffic coming south from the northern, already two-way, section of Water Street will now be able to drive south through the downtown section of Water Street. And motorists coming over the bridge on Bridge Street into downtown will be able to turn left onto Water Street.

Drivers coming down the hill on Bridge Street from the opposite direction, however, will still not be able to come all the way down to Water Street, instead having to turn onto Commercial Street and circle back onto Water.

Hartley said allowing motorists to come down the hill on Bridge Street all the way to Water Street was considered. But, he said, state Department of Transportation officials had concerns that allowing that additional traffic in would exceed the capacity at the intersection of Bridge and Water streets.

Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance and a major advocate of the switch to two-way traffic, said almost 40 different studies of cities that made the switch were researched before making the change. In nearly every case, he said, those downtowns fared better economically than they had before.

Hall said change should bring more traffic through downtown, and the new traffic pattern will be less confusing to tourists and other visitors, who are currently forced to drive around downtown Water Street if coming from the north.

Justin Fecteau, owner of Huiskamer Coffee House with his wife, Grace, on the section of Water Street that is seeing the switch, said he has faith the change will help downtown merchants, in part because of the work downtown advocates have done researching the change.

“I think we’ll be replicating success and I hope it works out here like it has elsewhere,” he said. “I think it’s time to trust the people that put a lot into this, who’ve been making all the right moves downtown.”

But Fecteau said that the new traffic flow could be a big change for local residents, noting it’s likely no one driving today has ever driven south on that section of Water Street, since it changed to one-way traffic in 1945.

“It’s going to be a big change for them, pretty monumental,” he said. “But I think people will figure it out.”

Behr, whose patrol duties over the years have included downtown, said plenty of drivers have mistakenly driven the wrong way down the one-way section of Water Street.

Tobias said business during the construction project was slower than normal. But she said the work seemed to go well and ahead of schedule. She hopes the upcoming project that will close Commercial Street for the rest of the summer will go well too, though she said that is likely to be disruptive to downtown businesses as well.

“It’s a struggle for businesses,” Tobias said. “But the city has done a great job trying to accommodate everybody down here. The police department has been amazing keeping everyone updated. It’s nice to have that involvement.”

Hartley said the Commercial Street project is slated to start soon, but the street won’t be closed to traffic until the end of the week, to help allow motorists to adjust to the new traffic flow downtown.

And once Commercial Street does close for construction, motorists will of course have a new option to travel in both directions through that part of the city, on the newly converted, two-way Water Street.

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