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Falmouth narrows down Route 1 improvement plan

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Falmouth narrows down Route 1 improvement plan

FALMOUTH — Surveyors who have been out along Route 1 over the past several weeks are completing the second phase of a plan to improve the business corridor.

The first version of the draft plan for a new Route 1 was presented to councilors in July, but since then the plan and cost estimates have changed dramatically.

“In July it was more expensive because (what was presented was) the sort of wish list for what we wanted, and the (Community Development) Committee reduced that by asking what we really need and what we can put off for the future,” the committee chairwoman, Town Council Vice Chairwoman Bonny Rodden, said.

The now-$5.6 million plan is proposed to be financed through existing property tax revenues that have been generated by the Route 1 South Tax Increment Financing District. Rodden stressed that the project will not raise property taxes because the money in the TIF district was designated to go back into the business community.

The proposed plan aims to improve traffic management in the Route 1 corridor by using curb cuts and interconnections between businesses. The existing center turning lane would be broken up by landscaped islands. The design also features wider sidewalks, new streetlights, traffic signal mast arms instead of hanging lights, and possibly underground power lines.

Putting the utilities underground is still an option being explored by the CDC because it will add a significant cost. Rodden said it could be sent to voters in June in a referendum separate from the main project.

Theo Holtwijk, director of long range planning, said that aspect of the project could be put off until later, but if it is going to be done, it should be done at the same time as the rest of the project.

“It is not deal (to put the power lines underground later) and typically if you only do a portion of the project and then go back later and do the rest of the project it ends up costing more,” Holtwijk said. “If we're going to do it there is an advantage to doing it all at once. If you're going to deal with roads and deal with sidewalks and paving, you might as well deal with underground power.”

The CDC is seeking the input of business owners, too. There will be four meetings next week at the Falmouth Memorial Library with business owners to discuss what they do and don't like about the project. The meetings will be held Jan. 28 from 4-6 p.m., Jan. 29 from 7:30-9:30 a.m., Jan. 30 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., and Jan. 31 from 6-8 p.m.

Rodden and Holtwijk said the public is welcome to attend all of these meetings, but there will be an official public forum later in the spring after business owners recommendations are included and the plans are close to being finalized.

“We're envisioning sitting over documents (at the meetings) with business owners and saying (things like) 'This is your curb cut, how do you feel about that?'” Rodden said. “We really want to be proactive and we want businesses to be able to participate in the decision process.”

The June 11 referendum will allow the town to ensure it takes advantage of the Maine Department of Transportation picking up the $700,000 tab for paving costs, Holtwijk said.

If voters approve the project, it will go out for construction bids in the fall, with construction slated to begin in the spring of 2014. If the project is not approved, the CDC will go back to the drawing board and revise its work.

Rodden said the committee and councilors feel that by beautifying Falmouth's “Main Street,” it gives the town a more community-friendly feel and improves the platform for businesses.

“The plan aims to create a platform on which new investment, new private investment and new building and new development is promoted and encouraged,” Holtwijk agreed.

Plans for the project can be viewed on the town's website. Questions about the project can be directed to Holtwijk at 699-5340 or tholwijk@town.falmouth.me.us.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.