Bath City Manager Peter Owen on June 26 describes proposals to mitigate traffic concerns in the dense neighborhoods around Richardson Street and Western Avenue.

BATH — Peter Owen expected to get some pushback last week on proposed traffic changes to Richardson Street and Western Avenue, two high-density neighborhoods that many motorists use as a shortcut.

“I understand this is very different. Before you hang the messenger, just let me get through this,” he said, drawing chuckles from approximately 50 residents gathered June 26 at City Hall auditorium, many of whom ultimately resisted the ideas.

Owen’s proposal was the latest in a series intended to mitigate traffic speed and volume, as well as heavy truck traffic, along the two streets and some surrounding residential roads. They all sit between U.S. Route 1 and High Street (Route 209), and are used as shortcuts to reach the north end of Bath and Phippsburg.

The city last year tried a variety of temporary traffic-calming measures: speed tables and raised crosswalks, pavement markings and signs, visible crosswalks and pedestrian islands, traffic circles and bicycle lanes. Those proved unpopular, yet residents still called for traffic to be diverted and slowed, Owen said.

By the time the traffic-calming measures were dismantled last November, the city had spent about $20,000 for engineering and another $15,000 on equipment.

The latest proposal – which stemmed from Owen’s meeting with the state traffic engineer – focuses on re-routing traffic away from Richardson Street and Western Avenue, particularly the large trucks that have concerned residents.

“This is really the last option,” Owen told the audience. “We can’t do traffic calming. There are a lot of things … that we’ve looked at. We looked at one-way streets, we looked at doing a series of different things that were all considered unacceptable. So we’re trying something much different at this point.”

The state has authority over Richardson Street – it is a state road eligible for maintenance funding from Augusta – so the city is unable to block commercial truck access to that road, Owen said.

But since Western Avenue is under the city’s domain, the city can affect policies there.

The proposal called for both ends of Western Avenue to become one-way, with two-way travel maintained in between. Single-lane traffic would head east from Redlon Road to the Big Apple entrance road, and then two-lane travel eastward of that section. Westbound single-lane traffic would be allowed from High Street to Farrin Street.

Richardson Street would have a similar arrangement, as the state allowed in this case: one-way moving west for about 150 feet before Redlon Road, and one-way eastward for roughly the same distance on the section before High Street. The rest of Richardson, including intersections with Lilac and West streets, and the endpoint on State Road near the Residence Inn, would remain two-way.

Bath has proposed new traffic configurations to reduce speeds, volume and large trucks along Richardson Street and Western Avenue.

“The goal here is to try to get traffic to stay on Route 1 and to go to High Street,” Owen said. “And not use Richardson Street or Western as a cut-through. Or to allow (Bath Iron Works) traffic or any other traffic to use as a cut-through.”

Bath would, as allowed, ban trucks of more than 24,000 pounds from Western Avenue. The proposed arrangements would, in turn, block them from being able to access Richardson, since they have to get onto Western to reach Richardson, Owen said.

Several audience members balked at the complexity of the traffic flow patterns through their neighborhood – “all these mouse traps to get home,” one woman said – which the manager acknowledged would take some getting used to. One resident noted that motorists pulling off U.S. Route 1 to swing by the Big Apple would still wend through side streets to get to Phippsburg.

“In order to meet the goals that this group basically asked for, this is the kind of change in your life that is going to be required,” Owen said.

“This is a proposal to see how it would be received,” he also noted. “… If it’s not received well, we’re not going to spend any more money on it.”

Calls rose out for greater speed enforcement by police in that area in lieu of any changes. When Owen noted the demands the force already faces, one suggestion was to put the $35,000 that went toward last year’s traffic calming measures toward police overtime pay. The violators should be punished, not the neighborhood, another person stated.

Bob Warren said when he bought his Western Avenue home 22 years ago, “there was no question what the traffic pattern was going to be” through his neighborhood. He noted there is “a finite period of time” both in the morning and afternoon when traffic peaks on Richardson Street and Western Avenue, and the traffic flow changes would result in many misdirected cars turning around in his driveway, regaling him with exhaust odors.

“It hasn’t changed; it’s never going to change,” Warren said. “Don’t change it.”

Near the close of the hour-long input session, Owen said the city’s Transportation Committee would review the responses received, as well as any additional feedback provided at cityofbath.com/richardson-western-traffic-calming or by calling Assistant Manager Marc Meyers at 443-8330.

Positive responses could lead to temporary directional changes made this summer. No consensus on the pattern change proposal, which Wednesday seemed more likely, could lead to the city choosing to take no action.


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