Brunswick council postpones decision on traffic signal, green-lights Freeport dispatch talks

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BRUNSWICK — A proposed traffic signal at the intersection of McKeen and Maine streets is generating debate between residents concerned about safety and traffic flow and those worried about noise and urban creep.

The Town Council on Monday postponed a decision on the signal, which if approved would be paid for by the state Department of Transportation and managed by the town.

The council also voted unanimously to authorize negotiations with Freeport over the consolidation of dispatch services. The Freeport Town Council voted 6-1 on March 9 to enter discussions with Brunswick and Cumberland County.

An agreement would shift Freeport’s non-emergency dispatch to Brunswick. Freeport’s emergency dispatch is already in Brunswick.

Meanwhile, the McKeen-Maine street signal is the result of a 2-year-old traffic study triggered by the review of the Maine Street Station project.

DOT officials gave the intersection a failing grade because of the difficulty motorists sometimes have making left turns to Maine Street from McKeen Street. Proponents  say the signal will help ease the problem, which could become worse after the opening of a new elementary school on McKeen Street.

But some residents objected, arguing a signal is no longer necessary given the reduced size of Maine Street Station. They also said motorists would be tempted to use nearby residential streets to avoid the signal, or that a signal would create traffic jams on Maine Street.

Marybeth Burbank advised the council to postpone its decision indefinitely, saying the town had no way of knowing if the signal is even needed. Otherwise, she said, the signal will push the commercial section of Maine Street farther into the Bowdoin College campus neighborhood.

Connie Lundquist, of Longfellow Avenue, said concerns about safety and delays at the intersection are overstated.

“It’s a pain in the neck,” Lundquist said. “That’s all it is.”

Councilors Gerry Favreau and Suzan Wilson disagreed.

Favreau said the signal couldn’t be installed “soon enough” later added that opponents should be blamed for any accidents that occur between now and the time the council takes up the issue again.

“(The accidents) will be on your heads,” said Favreau, who opposed the tabling motion.

Wilson supported the motion, but rejected claims that a signal will mark the urbanization of a neighborhood.

“Just because we haven’t killed enough people to reach the threshold for a (high-crash designation) doesn’t mean this isn’t a problem,” she said.

The council’s 8-1 vote means it will review the signal again at its next meeting on April 5. DOT officials will be invited to the meeting.

According to Town Manager Gary Brown, DOT-funded projects like this one typically circumvent council review. However, he said, the sensitive nature of the McKeen-Maine signal prompted the town to bring the issue to the council.

In other business, the council voted 8-1 to table a proposal that would move public comment on non-agenda items to the end of meetings.

Public comment now takes place at the beginning of meetings. Wilson and Favreau, who are sponsoring the change, believe business should be completed first. 

Favreau said the length of public comment sometimes meant important matters are put off until late in the evening.

Councilor Ben Tucker said the proposal is nothing “more than attempt to abolish public comment.”

“Part of our business as a council is to listen to citizens,” he said.

Several councilors echoed Tucker’s concern. Most councilors rejected Tucker’s claim that killing public comment is the intent of the proposal, but some agreed that it could be the result. 

Other councilors said the length of public comment should be monitored.

The council will revisit the issue April 5.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or