Downtown Thomaston, which straddles Route 1, is seen in this 2017 file photo. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

THOMASTON, Maine — For decades the town of Thomaston has kicked around the idea of creating a new road for traffic to bypass the stretch of Route 1 that runs through downtown.

But now that the town has conducted a feasibility study for the potential road, some residents don’t seem to want it.

Results of the study were presented to the public for the first time Thursday night and included a proposed three-mile route that would run east to west around Thomaston’s town center and cost an approximate $11.5 million. More than a dozen residents opposed the project, which they said would be a tax burden and simply a new road for drivers to speed on.

Bypasses around downtowns are not uncommon along heavily trafficked Route 1, and in places such as Belfast and Damariscotta, downtowns are thriving despite having through-traffic routed around them.

While those projects were pursued by the state, Thomaston’s push for an option to Route 1 is coming from the local level. Town officials say the route wouldn’t technically be a “bypass road” but, whatever it is called, residents are not sold on how it would benefit the town.

“I think we have more important things to spend our money on,” Alan Leo, a Beechwood Street resident, said. “This road is going to be nothing but a race track.”

Town officials stressed that the study was preliminary and any final proposal would likely require years of studies, route tweaks, permitting, additional public meetings and a town-wide vote. The Thomaston Select Board approved spending $20,000 on the study during a meeting in June following a recommendation in the town’s recently updated comprehensive plan.

The plan identified a new east-west road ― to be constructed north of the town’s center ― that would provide an alternate route to get around downtown Thomaston. The road would allow emergency vehicles to avoid downtown when it is congested, alleviate traffic on that portion of Route 1 and make the area more livable, according to the plan.

Town officials said Thursday that the road would also allow for increased residential development.

The proposed route would begin west of downtown at the intersection of Oyster River Road and Route 1, then continue along Studley Road and then cut across town, intersecting with Beechwood Street before connecting to Old County Road to the east, according to maps provided Thursday night. The proposed route includes three roundabouts where the new route intersects with existing roads.

A representative of Dirigo Engineering, the firm that conducted the study, said the proposed route is the cheapest option because it utilizes as much existing roadway as possible. It was not clear how much of the three-mile route would be entirely new construction, though it appeared to be the bulk of the route.

However, if the town decides to go forward with the road, the route could change slightly.

The project would also involve negotiations with the Maine Department of Transportation, which owns both Route 131 ― Oyster River Road ― and Route 1, according to Thomaston Pollution Control Superintendent John Fancy, who oversees the town’s wastewater treatment system.

“This is a detailed and complicated process to move ahead. It’s not going to be done in the next 10 minutes. We’re talking about a multi-year project just to get up to the point where we know what’s going on and then we figure out how this would be financed,” Fancy said.

Construction would affect about 53 parcels, including 49 privately owned and four town-owned properties, according to the Dirigo Engineering study. Three parcels totaling about 4.6 acres would need to be purchased outright and parts of 50 other properties would be directly impacted, according to the study.

However, details on what specific properties would be affected were not provided Thursday night. It is not clear if town officials have notified the owners of those properties.

Town Manager Kara George said that the map of the proposed route is more “conceptual than definitive” at this point, and could be readjusted for a number of reasons if the town goes forward with the project. 

“It is simply too soon to determine exactly what properties would be affected if this project were to proceed. It is unknown when such information would be available as more studies are required to obtain such information,” George said.

Residents of Beechwood Street, Harjula Lane and others who live in the vicinity of the proposed route spoke strongly against the project.

“I think we need to focus more on the streets we have and the safety of all of those streets instead of taking land, homes, my home for starters,” Holly Spicer of Beechwood Street said. “I feel like shuffling us off to the side for a road for basically more people to use as a highway, speedway, race track whatever, it’s not setting a good tone for the community and it’s setting a very dark undertone for the town.”

While one downtown resident spoke in favor of the project, a downtown business owner worried providing a route for vehicles to bypass the area would take away potential customers.

“I do believe that this would absolutely kill our business. It will not help grow downtown businesses,” Neal DeYoung, owner of Flipside Coffee, said. “I love the small town feel, but as part of that, it’s Route 1. The whole point of opening the business, I’m not going to lie, is 15,000, 20,000 vehicles might come down the road and if they start going the other way I’ve got a feeling it’s not going to help us.”

Fancy and members of the town’s comprehensive plan committee pushed back on the perception that the new road would be a “bypass road,” stating that it would be just another local road.

A bypass road, according to the Maine Department of Transportation, would typically feature signage indicating that the road branches from a numbered route, like Route 1, and reconnects with the numbered route in another part of the town or city.

Town Manager Kara George said Friday morning that it’s too premature to say what the signage for the road would entail if the project goes forward.

It is unclear how the town will proceed with discussion of the project, or what the next steps are. The Select Board is not currently scheduled to discuss the matter, George said. However, if the board does decide to continue discussions on the project, it would be advertised within the board’s meeting agendas, George said.