Route 1 roundabout likely after Yarmouth council action

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council approved spending $31,000 for the local share of the design of a proposed $2 million roundabout at Route 1 and Route 88.

The council at its Nov. 15 meeting also heard from the Planning Department about a partially complete study to reconnect the village to the harbor, approved spending for repairs on the Little John Island dock, and confirmed the hiring of a new town engineer.

The town’s share of the roundabout design is 15 percent, with the remainder of the total $210,000 design to be paid for by the Maine Department of Transportation.

Although the town has only approved funding for the design, Town Manager Nat Tupper said approving the money implies an estimated $380,000 local commitment for the construction project.

“The intention is if (MDOT) gives the money to the design, they expect us to give money for construction,” Tupper said at the meeting. “If we don’t proceed with project, they will want their design money back.”

The committment to the design does not necessarily lock the town into installing a roundabout, Tupper said, noting that alternatives can still be considered.

Councilor Pat Thompson favored a traffic light for the intersection, raised concerns about safety for bicyclists, and questioned the need for a roundabout, saying traffic counts do not warrant the project. She also recommended pushing for the project the be a locally administrated project, which can ultimately reduce costs because it cuts out some of the bureaucratic steps, Tupper said.

Other councilors, including Leslie Hyde, lended support for the project.

“This has been a very long and thoroughly vetted project since 2003,” Hyde said, noting that she thinks it will improve safety in the area. “I hate leaving money on the table and I want to endorse the work that has gone on.”

Kim Connell, a small business and rental property owner, said she was concerned about the cost of the project and wants the council to consider a less expensive alternative.

“I personally feel $2.2 million is too much, even though it’s only a 15 percent share from Yarmouth, it comes out of all of our pocket books,” she said, noting Yarmouth pays one of the highest tax rates in the state. “I ask that you please keep in mind the expenses that seem to be racking up.”

Another resident, Tim Cochran, voiced support for the roundabout and said, as a bicyclist, he sees this project as a safety improvement.

“I’ve been hit by cars from many directions and would rather be hit on the side than head on,” Cochran said, responding to Thompson’s concerns about bicycle safety. “There may be more incidents, but I would think they would be less tragic than a head-on collision.”

In other business, Town Planner Vanessa Farr and Baker Design Consultants  unveiled a semi-complete plan for the town’s waterfront area that would return the town to it’s historic roots by strengthening the connections between the village and the harbor.

The plan’s goal is to reconnect the two areas separated by Interstate 295 by building two pedestrian bridges from the village to the harbor, with the hope they will reinvigorate the harbor’s economy and improve pedestrian safety. The only current access to the waterfront from the village is on Old Shipyard Road, a 1.4-mile walk from the village.

The two biggest features of the plan include a shared-use bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists that would begin at the town landing and end at Route 88 near Yarmouth Boat Yard. That bridge would also be connected to another pedestrian bridge to Walter Gendall Memorial park that would pass below the I-295 bridges along the Royal River.

The larger bridge would include harbor overlooks. A parking area would also be constructed.

In addition to the walkways, the plan also calls for changes to Route 88, including reducing the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, by not only changing the sign, but by instituting traffic calming measures to make it safer for pedestrians.

Although the proposal is in its early design phase, the estimated cost of the shared-use pathway is $3 million, with the Route 88 improvements estimated at $530,000.

The consultants recommended that the project be broken into phases and noted that there are options for grants or federal and state funding for the proposal.

Although no formal action was taken on the proposal, councilors supported the goal of the project.

The study will have to be completed by mid-January to meet state and federal design funding deadlines next year, Farr said.

The council also approved $27,000 for repairs to the Little John Island dock, which is rotting in many places, Tupper said. Another $19,000 was approved in June, but more extensive work was needed, he said. Funding for the dock repairs comes from the Harbor and Waterfront Reserve.

The council also confirmed the hiring of a new town engineer to replace the retiring engineer, Dan Jellis.

The new engineer, Steven Johnson, of New Gloucester, has worked with Yarmouth in the past and previously worked at Ransom Consulting as a senior project manager and was the director of public works in South Portland from 1999 to 2004.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.