Colby pledges over $13,000 towards construction of downtown roundabout

The intersection of Spring, Water, Main and Bridge Streets in downtown Waterville may look very different in the year to come. The bustling intersection at the foot of Main Street is the subject of a City commissioned traffic-pedestrian study. The study’s goal is to find a way to enhance pedestrian security at the intersection as well as make the area more traffic-friendly.

Efforts to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety at the intersection stemmed from the development of the Hathaway Creative Center, a residential, commercial and retail center located just south of the intersection. Vehicular and foot traffic has increased since the opening of the center, as many people regularly walk to and from downtown Waterville, and have to cross the intersection. In 2009, the City commissioned a study, conducted by Wilbur Smith Associates of Portland, to try to find ways to make the intersection safer; however, many of the alternatives, including a pedestrian bridge or catwalk beside the nearby Ticonic Bridge, were too costly and the intersection remained unchanged.

Late last year, the City Council voted to commission an additional study to find more cost effective alternatives to improve safety. Recently, a planning consultant, hired by the College, suggested that the study look into the feasibility of the construction of a roundabout at the intersection with the goal of managing traffic without the need for traffic lights. The addition of a roundabout to the study would increase costs from $49,500 to roughly $61,600; however, the College has agreed to cover the majority of the additional costs, ($13,350) asking the city to cover the estimated remaining $500. Currently the city is funding roughly half of the study, $24,500, and the remainder, $25,000, is funded through a grant from the state.

Currently, the study has developed three solutions. The first option would keep the intersection similar to its current shape, only eliminating some right turn lanes. The second option adds additional crosswalks to better accommodate the increased foot traffic. The third option is the construction of a rotary. Although the terms roundabout and rotary are often utilized interchangeably, they are technically different traffic management patterns. Rotaries are typically larger, allowing traffic to travel at faster speeds. Roundabouts are small in size, requiring traffic to yield before entering the circle. If the city decides to make changes to the intersection, any changes made would require state approval, as Main Street is currently part of U.S. Route 201, a state road and federal highway.

There are also many questions circling around who will pay for the changes. The city is currently in the process of refinancing bonds in order to save $120,000 over the next ten years, but the College has also expressed interest in getting involved in the revitalization of Downtown Waterville. President David A. Greene recently formed a steering committee to examine how Colby can better integrate with Waterville and help to revitalize the city. Assistant Vice President for Communications, Ruth Jackson, in an email to The Echo detailed the college’s involvement. “This is one of many ways that Colby is partnering with the city and others to help make improvements to downtown Waterville. A reconfigured intersection would offer the opportunity to better connect the people living and working in the Hathaway Creative Center to retail and dining establishments on Main Street. Getting more people on the street will help drive economic development. The intersection also offers an opportunity to improve the look and feel of an important gateway into the city.”

The College has discussed the possibility of operating student, faculty, and staff housing in Downtown Waterville and has expressed interest in getting involved to improve the Downtown area.

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