WESTBROOK — Members of both the Portland and Westbrook planning boards had a back- and-forth May 17 about the traffic impact associated with the proposed Dirigo Plaza shopping center in Westbrook, near the city line.

Tuesday’s joint meeting in Westbrook focused largely on a traffic study conducted by Jeff Dirk, a traffic engineer from Vanasse & Associates working for J&J Gove Development, which predicts more than 13,300 new trips to the site on an average weekday, and 18,800 on a peak Saturday. 

With the significant impact foreseen at such a large project – almost 500,000 square feet of retail – planning staff from both cities have been discussing traffic improvements to area intersections, some of which are already in need of upgrades. 

Most of the projects will focus on  Riverside Street and Brighton Avenue in Portland and Main Street and Larrabee Road in Westbrook.

The traffic study, and concerns from traffic consultants and board members from both cities, will help drive the decision of what projects are most needed. 

“We’d like to target the intersections that are in most need of improvements, or that are unsafe,” Dirk said during his presentation. 

Westbrook City Planner Jennie Franceschi said both cities have discussed the need to direct traffic flow toward the Westbrook Arterial entrance and Interstate 95, instead of onto Main Street and other roads that already see congestion. 

Many at the meeting commented on the large numbers predicted for the site. Dirk said his analysis expects 35 percent of the new traffic to come from the Maine Turnpike, with the remaining coming locally. 

Concerns from Portland Planning Board members frequently echoed those already shared by Westbrook’s members during previous meetings – the need for pedestrian-friendly elements and new or safer sidewalks. 

Portland Board member Kristien Nichols said there should be connectivity between the two plazas.

“It’s not inviting now,” she said. 

Dirk said Riverside Street in Portland and Larrabee Road in Westbrook are two areas needing new sidewalks that would encourage people to walk or bicycle to the site. At the intersection of Main Street and Larrabee Road, which currently has no crosswalks, the roadway will be narrowed and crossings will be installed. 

Dirk said the traffic study looked at 43 intersections surrounding the property, with 26 in Portland and 17 in Westbrook. 

Also discussed briefly Tuesday was stormwater drainage for the site, which is complicated by a 20-acre gravel pit used by Pike Industries for decades. The developer plans to allow the pit to fill with water and become a focal point of the project, a point that Portland board members focused on. 

“There needs to be a focus on the pond as a destination,” said one Portland Planning Board member, adding that she’s wary it could become a “really large, deep puddle.”

Wayne Morrill, who is working on the J&J Gove Development team, said the company is still planning to build a path to circle the entire pond, and to stock the water with trout. 

“Water attracts people,” said Westbrook Planning Board member Dennis Isherwood. 

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