Topsham selectmen consider master plan study for mall road

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TOPSHAM — In an effort to maintain the viability of Topsham Fair Mall, a master transportation planning project for the area may soon begin.

The Board of Selectmen on Nov. 19 unanimously tabled the Planning Office’s request to seek consulting services for the project to better understand how the work will be funded, Planning Director Rod Melanson said the following day.

He plans to return to the panel Dec. 3 for a review of the town’s economic reserve account, from which some of the funding would come.

The initiative stems from projects approved along Topsham Fair Mall Road this fall, when it “dawned on us during the planning process that we don’t have a master planning effort there” to rely on when new development with major impacts is introduced, Melanson said in an interview Nov. 19.

Approving two new site plans on the road in September required lengthy discussion by the board and “some minor geometric modifications to the striping and intersection layout” at Woody’s Performance Center and Panera Bread, Melanson noted in a Nov. 3 memo to the Board of Selectmen.

“This raises the question about the rest of TFMR, and what can be done to ensure ease of access, visual interest and attractiveness, and safety for all users of the road,” the planner added.

The master plan would cover the stretch of road from Route 196 to Winter Street.

The town would like to work with stakeholders – such as property owners and business tenants along the road, as well as community members – to devise a plan for the area to improve upon the existing conditions, Melanson said Nov. 19.

Safety – reducing vehicle speeds and traffic conflicts, and the security of pedestrians and bicyclists – is one issue to be addressed. Enhanced aesthetics is another, as well as better planning to identify and facilitate the area’s current and future needs, and proactively implement continued improvements, according to Melanson.

“What we’ll hopefully end up with is a better way to address the long-term traffic issues that are likely to not go away but only increase,” he said, noting how the mall is a significant source of Topsham’s nonresidential tax revenue.

The project could include an analysis of current and projected traffic, as well as roadway design enhancements for intersections, pedestrians and bicyclists, landscaping, and signage. The work could also comprise stakeholder and community meetings, cost estimates and improvements and a schedule for implementation, and an update of the town’s Traffic Impact Fee Ordinance.

Recent studies in other communities have cost between $40,000 and $80,000 based on the extent of engineering plans, according to Melanson, who is calling for Topsham to budget $50,000 for the work “so that we may have solid cost estimates based upon an extensive up-front analysis of the traffic data.”

Funding is available through funds rolled over from the prior fiscal year’s contracted services account, along with the economic reserve accounts, which allows for infrastructure planning expenses, Melanson stated.

Along with identifying stakeholders, he added, the town could send out a request for proposals for a traffic engineer and landscape architect this winter, award a contract and develop a plan, adopt an amended Traffic Impact Fee Ordinance and implement the improvements.

Managing traffic is an issue occurring in many communities with commercial areas, Melanson said.

“And do it in a fashion that just isn’t about getting people through an area quickly,” he added, “it’s about getting them through safely.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A master transportation planning project for Topsham Fair Mall Road may soon begin.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.