BREWER, Maine — The message from business owners along the North Main Street corridor, the stretch of roadway between Joshua Chamberlain Bridge and Penobscot Bridge, was loud and clear at Thursday’s public meeting about proposed traffic changes: Leave the downtown parking situation alone.
“It’s a very nice project, but it’s going to kill everybody,” Al Elkin, owner of Perkins Appliance Service on Center Street, told the gathering.
The Maine Department of Transportation held the public informational meeting with the city to discuss adding a travel-through lane in the corridor, changing the location of a traffic signal, removing on-street parking and adding off-street parking, and aligning a street crossing that has the city’s highest crash rate.
Most of the 37 people at the gathering either own or manage businesses in the corridor. A few residents also were on hand, along with four City Council members and several city staffers.
The draft plan calls for eliminating between 30 and 35 parking spaces along North Main Street and Center Street, which would become one-way.
“We’re going to destroy them here,” City Councilor Michael Celli said. “They don’t have enough parking now.”
The city is using Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System plans created in 2006 as the foundation for improving safety and traffic flow along the corridor, especially heavy truck traffic on steep Bridge Hill.
The BACTS project was placed on the back burner for funding reasons, and city leaders recently decided to assume the project because they have leftover federal earmark funds allocated to improve the city’s main corridor.
“We thought it would be wise to try and address the issues while we had the funding,” Tanya Pereira, Brewer economic development specialist, said.
Approximately $650,000 is left from the original $1.75 million 2005 federal transportation bill earmark that was used to improve South Main Street, according to Steve Sawyer of Sebago Technics, who created the preliminary designs and presented them to residents.
“This is not cast in stone yet,” he said at the beginning of the presentation. “We’ve got a long way to go before we start to put shovels in the ground.”
The biggest and most expensive parts of the proposal call for aligning Betton Street with Parker Street and adding a traffic signal, and creating a parking lot where Betton Street is now located. Celli suggested that portion of the project be done, and the rest be held, which actually would add downtown parking and still address safety concerns at the accident-prone street crossing.
“There are many parts of this project that I like,” City Councilor Joseph Ferris said. “Fix the parking problem and bring it back to us.”
Steve Landry, assistant state traffic engineer, started the meeting out by saying that the DOT was in Brewer to collect comments from locals because “you guys live and work in this area and know how things operate.”
He ended the meeting by saying, “It looks like we may be back in the future.”
The draft traffic plan includes:
— Realignment of Betton Street and Parker Street to create a four-way intersection.
— Relocation of the traffic signal from Center Street to the newly aligned Betton and Parker streets intersection.
— Creating a public parking area on the former Betton Street locale.
— Making Center Street one-way.
— Coordination of traffic signals in favor of northbound traffic.
— Elimination of on-street parking between Betton and Wilson streets to provide additional travel and turn lanes.
— Designating Union Street, at its junction with North Main Street, as right-in, right-out only.