Planning officials from Westbrook and Portland are meeting next week for talks on the potential traffic and stormwater impacts from the proposed 500,000-square-foot Dirigo Plaza shopping center, which straddles the city line.

At issue is how the new site – formerly owned by Pike Industries – will impact surrounding traffic flow, especially at aging intersections that are already in need of improvements.

The project is expected to generate a lot of traffic. An early estimate last year from Jeff Dirk, a traffic engineer working on the J&J Gove Development team, said the plaza is expected to produce some 2,400 “new trips” to the site on a peak weekend afternoon.

For Westbrook, as well as neighboring Portland, this means taking a look at some key intersections.

According to Jennie Franceschi, the Westbrook city planner, these include the intersection of Main Street and Larrabee Road, and the Portland intersection where Exit 48 meets Riverside Street.

“It’s extremely unsafe for pedestrians,” Eric Dudley, Westbrook’s director of public services and engineering, said this week, referring to the intersection of Main Street and Larrabee Road. He said the intersection was designed in the 1960s and includes right-turn slip lanes, which are dangerous and are no longer used by traffic engineers.

The intersection also has no pedestrian crossings, Dudley said. Now, people crossing the street have to walk behind traffic to be able to cross, but even that is basically running across the busy street.

Developers will present both cities with their traffic study findings and proposed intersection upgrades at next week’s meeting on Tuesday, May 17, at 7 p.m. in room 114 of Westbrook High School. They will also include significant upgrades and a traffic signal across from the entrance to Westbrook Crossing, home to Kohl’s and Shaw’s, which will be one of the main entrances to Dirigo Plaza.

There will be three other entrances to the site: two on Larrabee Road, across from Terminal Street and Saunders Way, each with its own traffic signal (the signal at Terminal will be flashing yellow); and one off the Westbrook Arterial, allowing quick access from Interstate 95.

Dudley said intersection fixes at Main Street and Larrabee Road will include removing the so-called slip lanes that allow for quick right turns and installing traditional right-turn lanes and pedestrian crossings. He said while there may be an increased delay at the light, it won’t create congestion.

“It will slow people down a lot,” he said, referring to the speeds at which vehicles drive through the slip lanes. “It’s a high-crash location.”

At exit 48 in Portland, Franceschi said, details will be discussed on how to improve the intersection, which is complicated.

“This project won’t be the cause of all of that intersection’s woes, but we will try to improve an already tricky situation,” she said.

Exit 48 also spills straight onto Larrabee Road.

Another intersection to be looked at by Portland is Riverside Street at Main Street/Brighton Avenue, next to Denny’s.

A focus on pedestrians has become a key element of the developers’ plans, and for the Westbrook planning staff, too. During initial site plan meetings, the developers unveiled plans for multiple pedestrian walkways, benches and an informational kiosk. There will also be room for two Metro buses to be stopped simultaneously. Shops along Main Street were also designed to look like a downtown street, with small boutique signs hanging from each store.

Dudley said that with the scope of the project, a lot of people have their eyes on the traffic impact.

Portland planning staff will be present at the meeting, as well as the city’s full-time traffic engineer. Also reviewing the traffic plans are engineers from the city of Westbrook and the Maine Department of Transportation, which has final say on what improvements need to be made.

“There are a lot of eyes on it, as there should be,” Dudley said. “We knew this was going to be the biggest piece of the puzzle.”

“The ultimate approval comes from the Maine Department of Transportation,” said Westbrook Planning Board Chairman Ed Reidman this week.

Community discussion about the project increased last month when the American Journal reported that Walmart would be one of the anchor tenants. Many residents in Westbrook have shared vocal criticism since the announcement, while others have defended it. Some have said they plan to attend Planning Board meetings to air concerns.

Reidman said that while Tuesday’s meeting is a workshop intended to inform the public, the choice of Dirigo Plaza’s tenants will not be discussed.

“I do know that the selection of stores will not be a topic,” he said. “I expect that when we have a public hearing, but there’s nothing the board can do about the selection of stores.”

The shopping plaza will be located entirely in Westbrook, but a large pit that has been used for decades as a quarry by Pike Industries falls right on the Westbrook/Portland line. The parcel is 81 acres, 20 of which is the gravel pit.

Also on the docket Tuesday will be further discussion of the site’s stormwater runoff, which is complicated by the large pit. Officials from both cities have been discussing drainage for the site, as developers have proposed to allow the 350-foot-deep pit to fill with water, creating a large pond.

Franceschi said Wednesday that because the project uses land in both communities, Portland has to have a subdivision review process. She said they are also reviewing the proposed path around the pond.

Reidman said he believes the developer has already been working with the city of Portland to discuss drainage plans, which include upgrades to Nasson’s Brook, which runs through the property.

At a Westbrook Planning Board meeting on May 3, Wayne Morrill of Jones-Beach Engineers, part of the development team, said they will be replacing an existing culvert in the brook. The stormwater impact and related modifications must be approved by the Maine Department of Environment Protection.

With Pike Industries all but finished on the property, the pit has already begun filling with water, which Morrill expects will take a few years to fill completely. They may also add water themselves as part of the site work. On Tuesday, a backhoe was dumping leftover dirt from the site into the pit.

A call to Pike Industries was not returned by the American Journal’s deadline Wednesday, but Franceschi believes the work being done by Pike is moving existing dirt piles from the site into the pit.

Developer Jeffrey Gove has said the pond will be a focal point of the development, with planned walking paths circling the perimeter and the potential for hosting events such as fishing derbies. He said he expects more tenants to be announced over the next few months.

The rock quarry used for decades by Pike Industries has already begun filling with water. Developers of the proposed Dirigo Plaza retail project have planned the pond as a focal point of the development, with walking trails circling it.

Part of the traffic upgrades included in the Dirigo Plaza project will be a redesign of the intersection of Main Street and Larrabee Road. Two right-turn slip lanes will be removed, allowing safe pedestrian crossings.

Officials from Portland will also be involved in the Dirigo Plaza review process, as the large gravel pit and several surrounding intersections will be impacted. This intersection, at Main Street and Brighton Avenue, will also most likely receive upgrades.

A bus stop sign is located just outside the proposed main entrance of Dirigo Plaza, directly across from the Westbrook Crossing shopping center in Westbrook. At left, vehicles at Pike Industries can be seen parked just inside the entrance.

A backhoe dumps dirt into the Pike Industries gravel pit Tuesday, which will eventually become a pond and focal point of the proposed Dirigo Plaza shopping center in Westbrook. The land straddles the Westbrook/Portland line and officials from both cities are taking part in the review process.

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