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Brunswick council OKs McKeen-Maine traffic signal

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Brunswick council OKs McKeen-Maine traffic signal

BRUNSWICK — A proposal to put a traffic signal at the intersection of Maine and McKeen street received a green light from the Town Council on Monday.

The council voted 6-3 to support the approximately $100,000 signal. Although some councilors worried it could become a nuisance for residents who live nearby, the majority argued that safety problems at the intersection would be amplified with the opening of a new elementary school on McKeen Street and the anticipated build-out of Maine Street Station.

Councilors Ben Tucker, and Benet Pols and Vice Chairwoman Debbie Atwood opposed the decision. Tucker said he worries about the "unintended consequences" of the signal. Atwood expressed concerns over a federally mandated feature that requires the signal to produce a sound whenever a pedestrian hits a button to use a crosswalk.

But most councilors were persuaded by correspondence from residents in favor of the light, several of whom complained that left turns from McKeen Street are difficult during peak traffic times.

"This is not rocket science. ... A lot of people have approached me wondering why we're dithering about this," Councilor Suzan Wilson said.

The issue was tabled at the council's March 22 meeting after some residents argued the signal isn't necessary and would adversely impact the neighborhood.

According to police, there were five accidents at the intersection between October 2008 and February of this year.

A 2-year-old traffic study by the Maine Department of Transportation gave the intersection a failing grade. Proponents said it could be worse after the new elementary school opens.

According to Town Manager Gary Brown, the School Department's transportation director supports the signal because he anticipates up to nine school buses leaving the new Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School at the same time.

"Safety is primary here," Councilor Gerald Favreau said. "I will enjoy using this intersection."

Pols, meanwhile, noted that support for the signal seemed to be greatest among residents who didn't leave nearby.

According to Steve Landry, DOT's assistant traffic manager, alternatives to the signal, including a three-way stop and a rotary, were briefly considered. Most of them, Landry said, would not have moved traffic through the area efficiently.

DOT will pay for the signal. The town will be responsible for for maintaining it.

In other business, the council received an update on a proposed improvement project for the Maine Street-Bath Road intersection, where, after several years of negotiations, it appears stakeholders have a settled on a compromise.

The plan, which can be viewed on the town's Web site, brunswickme.org, would alter the intersection near the First Parish Church.

In 2008, the council authorized a $700,000 for the project. However, objections from primarily the church and Bowdoin College created delays in settling on a final configuration for the intersection.

The new plan will likely result in the removal of the Spanish War Memorial and town's Christmas tree to make room for a new left-turn lane onto Maine Street. The memorial may be moved to the north side of the village Mall.

Brown said the town arborist has expressed concerns about the Christmas tree's overall health.

He said the new plan would also cap the town's expense at about $100,000, meaning the remaining $600,000 allocated for the project will go into the town's fund balance.

The council spent a portion of that savings on Monday when it unanimously authorized the purchase of a $165,000 ambulance. The old ambulance, known as Rescue 3, has been out of service since January.

In other transportation-related matters, Public Works Director John Foster said work would soon begin on repair and shoulder on Mere Point Road.

Harry C. Crooker & Sons, which town officials said produced the winning bid, will begin work on the $1.3 million project next week. Foster said the contractor hopes to finish the work by mid-July.

The council also heard from members of Greater Brunswick PeaceWorks, who urged the town to sign a resolution urging the state's congressional delegation to stop spending on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Members argued that the federal expenditures on those conflicts are draining local budgets and are unsustainable.

The agenda item was sponsored by Atwood, who cited statistics from the National Priorities Project that claim Maine's share of the nearly $1 trillion spent on the war effort is $2.5 billion. Brunswick's share, the site claims, is $50 million.

Other than Atwood's prepared statement, councilors did not discuss the resolution.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net

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