Looking out across Route 1 at the future 11-acre home of Hancock Lumber, the intersection of Flag Pond Road onto Portland Road is under consideration as the city of Saco considers endeavoring into a business partnership with Hancock Lumber and the Maine Department of Transportation to improve navigability. (Abigail Worthing photo)

SACO — As business continues to develop on Route 1, the Saco City Council is being asked to consider investing in traffic solutions.

During an April 16 meeting, councilors were asked by City Administrator Kevin Sutherland to consider a proposition that would enter the city into a business initiative to improve the navigability of Route 1, namely with the potential placement of a traffic light at the intersection of Flag Pond and Portland Road.

The initiative would be a three-way funding agreement between the city of Saco, Maine Department of Transportation and incoming business Hancock Lumber. Hancock Lumber has purchased 11 acres of land at 941 Portland Road, directly across from Flag Pond Road, and plans to build a lumberyard and kitchen showroom at said location.

Should the city authorize the agreement, each entity would agree to contribute $160,000 to put toward a $480,000 project for traffic improvements in the area, with Hancock Lumber agreeing to contribute more should project costs rise above the proposed cost. For the city, the $160,000 portion would be taken from the Park North Tax Increment Finance District.

TIF funds allow municipalities to shelter increases in valuation (for up to 30 years) and avoid losses due to state and country fiscal formulas. In practice, the TIF district is approved by the state to shift increases in tax revenue into the TIF fund, with the original taxes going into the general fund, and the increases entering into the TIF fund. Funds in a TIF are then used to make improvements to a municipality, in this case, improvements of traffic navigability.

According to a memorandum sent by Sutherland, the $160,000 TIF expense has not been included within the fiscal year 2019-2020 budget. However, there are no policies in place that would require city council approval to plan for an expense from TIF funds. Sutherland said in a memo that, moving forward, potential expenditures are being included in this year’s budget meetings to further council understanding and allow for input.

“I’ll look to the council on the 29th to support the use of the resources from the TIF,” Sutherland said during the April 16 meeting. “It’s not a budget amendment, you’re not using the general fund resources for it, you’re using another reserve account, essentially.”

During the workshop, Director of Planning and Development Denise Clavette answered questions from councilors.

Ward 2 Councilor Roger Gay was concerned about placing a traffic light without a study that would show peak travel in the area. Clavette said there are many options on the table to aid and correct traffic flow problems on Route 1, and that a light is not a foregone conclusion for what could be done in that location.

She said the Maine Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the area in question, will complete a more comprehensive traffic study at the end of May or early June to better encapsulate the area’s traffic needs; a study done in March or April wouldn’t reflect peak transportation needs like a summertime study would, which will take into account the influx of tourist use on Route 1. Clavette said results of the study are expected between June and early August.

Clavette disclosed that the former driving range, located to the north of the future home of Hancock Lumber, is under contract with a confidential developer, and should the project come to fruition, it would use the same point of exit as Hancock Lumber.

“That will totally determine a different set of issues,” Clavette said. “And again, that is all being calculated right now.”

More concerns about the placement of a traffic light came from Ward 3 Councilor William Doyle and Ward 5 Councilor Alan Minthorn. Minthorn raised concerns over having so many lights and access points in such a short distance, referencing the incoming 46,000-square-foot Ready Seafood development that will be built at 1016 Portland Road.

“We could have four traffic lights within a mile and a half, which if we have something at the turnpike muck-up traffic, now you’ve got four lights going up Route 1 as people are trying to go up one trying to reaccess the turnpike in Scarborough,” Minthorn said. “I just hope that we utilize some forward thinking to prevent that inevitable scenario from playing out if we can.”

Doyle referenced “hamburger alley,” a colloquialism for the section of Route 1 lined with fast food restaurants between Thornton Academy and the turnpike access, noting that with the multitude of traffic lights in that small area, navigation becomes jammed during peak times.

Clavette reiterated that all options are being considered, and while a traffic light is on the table, nothing has been finalized.

“We are preserving our options to have that traffic signal,” Clavette said. “We’re also preserving our ability to get $160,000 from the state.”

Moving forward, Sutherland will request that the council support the expenditure of TIF money at the April 29 council meeting.

— Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at [email protected].

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