YARMOUTH — The Town Council unanimously endorsed potential modifications to the intersection of Route 1 and Portland Street.
The council on Oct. 19 also took action to assist senior-citizen residents.
The Route 1-Portland Street intersection has long been a concern due to its unconventional configuration, wide width, and close proximity to Yarmouth High School and Exit 15 of Interstate 295.
To address concerns, the town hired Gorrill Palmer Consulting Engineers last year to study the intersection and possible changes, including new signal phasing, intersection striping, crosswalk relocation, and pedestrian signal changes – at minimal cost to the town.
“If (the town) doesn’t do anything else, at least (reconfigure) the crosswalks to go straight across,” Randy Dunton of Gorrill Palmer suggested while presenting the firm’s study at a council meeting in August.
According to Gorrill Palmer, the rate of crashes at the intersection falls below the threshold classified by the state as a “high-crash location.” However, the intersection’s traffic signal equipment is getting old and will need to be replaced anyway in the next few years – which will cost about $60,000.
Because this work must be done, Town Manager Nat Tupper said the council should take this opportunity to improve safety and operation of the intersection.
The town’s next step is to get permission from the Maine Department of Transportation for the project. If MDOT approves, town staff will work with Gorrill Palmer to create an implementation plan and funding for the project to be presented to the council.
Tupper said the town is looking at spending $100,000-$120,000, including the $60,000 needed to replace the signal equipment.
If approved, construction would not begin until spring 2019 at the earliest, after construction on the Route 1 bridge over Main Street is completed.
“I’m so happy that we have this opportunity to make this gateway to Yarmouth safer and less confusing for drivers and pedestrians,” Councilor April Humphrey said.
The council also amended the town’s Senior Tax Assistance ordinance, which provides property-tax assistance to residents who are 67 years or older, have lived in town for at least 10 years, and who meet specific income requirements.
Benefit eligibility is based on the percentage of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s median family income for the greater Portland area ($83,400) earned by a “homestead.” The maximum allowable is 60 percent of the median, or about $50,000 a year.
Those who qualify for payment under the program receive a one-time payment on or around May 15.
Last year, only 86 residents applied for and received benefits and only half of the town’s allocated $100,000 for the program was used. With the hopes of benefiting more residents who plan to age in place, the council unanimously voted to increase benefit levels by approximately 20 percent next year.
The program’s benefit base – or refund cap – has increased from $3,350 to $3,800, which allows it’s maximum benefit to increase from $750 to $900.
Councilor David Craig presented the amendments to the council at a workshop on Oct. 5. About $50,000 left over from last year’s funds rolled over into this year’s fiscal budget, with $25,000 added in anticipation of increased interest.
“We can afford to expand the program,” Craig said. “It’s a reasonable change and revision to the policy and I think it will accomplish more of what we wanted to accomplish in terms of helping people age in place.”
In another effort to increase resources for the town’s older citizens, the council unanimously approved a contract for a Southern Maine Agency on Aging resource specialist.
The town appropriated $15,000 to fund the initiative for the remainder of the fiscal year, which runs through next June.
The specialist will spend 12 hours a week in Yarmouth, connecting older citizens, those with disabilities, and those who care for them with community resources related to issues such as nutrition, housing, financial security, health insurance, transportation, and Medicare. They will be based at a central location in town and spend their days working in the community.
Tupper said a contract has not yet been signed with the agency and anticipated a specialist will be hired in December at the earliest. The agency is in charge of the hiring process, while the town is responsible for finding office space.
According to the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, requests for information and services from Yarmouth residents increased by more than 40 percent in the past year.
In a news release, SMAA Chief Program Officer Katlyn Blackstone said the agency is very excited to be working with the town.
“Our resource specialist is an expert at aligning community resources with the needs of older adults and the family and friends who care about them,” she said.
The intersection of U.S. Route 1 and Portland Street in Yarmouth, where an unconventional configuration, wide width, and close proximity to Yarmouth High School and Exit 15 of Interstate 295 combine to produce traffic and safety concerns.