Downtown working towards two-way Main Street

The City of Waterville, Colby College, and Maine’s Department of Transportation presented the results of a yearlong traffic and parking study about Waterville’s downtown to the public and to 100 City Council Chambers this past Monday, according to The Morning Sentinel. This study examined the potential of changing downtown Waterville’s Main street, and other peripheral streets, from one-way to two-way traffic.

To Colby students, this change means less confusion and more economic commerce and development downtown in preparation for new student dormitories to be built on Main street in the near future.

At the presentation, Waterville citizens got a first look at a revitalized street plan for Main and Front streets, which would reinstitute two-way traffic. They were able to visualize a downtown with altered parking, wider sidewalks, and increased landscaping. 

“Vehicle traffic on Main Street would move through downtown more slowly,” according to the Sentinel. Certain amenities will include pedestrian only streets, more green space, and “bumpers” would be added to increase sightlines and safety. Overall, this plan would promote lingering and commerce activity in an area already in the midst of an economic reboot. 

The two-way streets would divert commuters away from Main street towards Front street, which keeps the commercial and residential area on Main street strictly for leisure and living.

The scenario was mapped out by officials from Gorrill-Palmer, a Portland-based consulting firm hired by the City of Waterville and Colby to survey the current layout and envision what a revitalized street plan would look like. According to the Sentinel, the City Council chamber was standing room only during the presentation.

The presentation was held on a snowy night, and Waterville mayor Nick Isgro thanked the crowd, Colby, and the Department of Transportation for turning out and demonstrating their passion for revitalization during inclement weather.  He added that the meeting  was a “culmination of a series of public meetings and input from downtown businesses and building owners on what they want to see downtown,” according to the Sentinel. 

Randy Dunton, head of the project for Gorrill-Palmer, explained that the study not only examined what two-way traffic would look like downtown, but also explored how the city would get to the two-way point. He addressed questions from the audience, including various points about crosswalks, bike lanes, and deliveries. The most important changes to traffic for Dunton were that Main street would not be “a high speed route,” that parking enforcement and employee parking for businesses would have to change, and, overall, that these changes were necessary for positive economic development. 

According to City historian Bill Arnold and the Sentinel, Waterville’s Main street was changed to one-way in 1957. Many merchants of the time period opposed the change, but the City Council voted for it anyway. Modern merchants will enjoy the hopeful improvements to the aesthetics, safety, pedestrian traffic, and development of downtown with this shift to two-way streets. 

For students, this small change is just one more positive aspect of downtown revitalization. “In terms of a two-way street I’m all for that,” said Gretchen O’Brien `18. “I’m someone who gets lost easily, so it makes it easier to navigate downtown without getting stuck in all of the one ways.” 

While a small traffic change to two-way streets may seem minor in comparison to the demolition of buildings, 20 million dollar investments, and hotel planning Colby is currently involved in downtown, it will be a major complementary change in addition to the major reconstruction of the future of Waterville.