Bath seeks input on improving Route 1 'gateway'

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BATH — Route 1 is a major gateway to the city’s downtown, where Front Street was honored last year as one of 10 “Great Streets” in the country.

But some say the welcome mat needs an overhaul.

Planning Director Jim Upham led a 90-minute meeting Tuesday that drew input from residents and city staff and officials, along with Tom Gorrill of Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers, whose firm the city has hired to develop a blueprint of how Route 1 from the West Bath line to High Street could be improved.

There are many criticisms of the four-lane highway. Traffic moves too fast, usually above the 35 mph posted speed. The brown chain-link fence in the median – reportedly installed more than 20 years ago after a person crossing the street was fatally struck by a vehicle – is a visual blight that reminds some of urban areas far from the City of Ships. And some ramps to Route 1, such as those from State Road and High Street, are considered high-crash locations.

This part of Route 1, also known as Leeman Highway, does not represent the rest of the city well, Upham said.

“The gateway is the first impression that people get,” he noted.

Since the fence in the median can still be climbed, the city is looking for a more attractive, less scalable replacement. Upham said he also hopes that with time, some curb cuts will be eliminated, reducing the number of “conflict points” along the road.

Traffic-calming measures such as sidewalks and trees on the sides of the road, intended to narrow the driver’s perception of the street and slow speeds to safer levels, have also been discussed.

Upham envisioned a boulevard pointing to Bath’s downtown – “not,” he said, “a big highway leading to Woolwich.”

“As long as it looks like a highway, you’re going to drive like it’s a highway,” noted Planning Board member Robin Haynes. “The more it looks like a city street, the more you’re going to slow down.”

Whatever improvements are made should be particular to Bath, Haynes added.

Councilor David Sinclair, referring to the road’s unsafe crossing condition for pedestrians as well as its excessive speeds, wondered whether well-defined crossings could be installed to address both concerns.

Upham said his goal is for the city to establish a community-approved plan that is implemented over several years, “and we pick away at it, whether it’s all together or it’s a little bit at a time.”

He said suggestions for Route 1 improvements should be e-mailed to him at jupham@cityofbath.com.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.