2017-04-06 / Front Page

Traffic to be studied in industrial park area

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

SACO – City Administrator Kevin Sutherland will pursue a contract with the Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority for a traffic study by Exit 36 that leads to Industrial Park Road.

On Monday, April 3, city council approved the necessary budget amendment 5-2, with councilors Kevin Roche and Roger Gay opposed.

The study is estimated to cost $200,000, with the Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority shouldering 80 percent – or about $160,000 – of costs. Saco will contribute up to 20 percent, or about $40,000, Sutherland said.

The feasibility study will look at current traffic numbers and make projections on what future figures could be, Sutherland said.

Sutherland said the amendment was required to allocate funds for the study from reserves and from an account used for traffic studies to an account that can be used to participate in funding the study. The vote was part of a two-meeting process, with the initial vote held Monday, March 20.

“There’s a lot of traffic backup in the morning and in the afternoon,” he said. “Even on the highway, if people are coming home to this area from North Street, there’s backup on the highway. Maine Turnpike Authority doesn’t like to see that. It’s in our best interest to try to find a solution. All of our proposals we currently have are Band-Aids for larger issues.”

Roche was dubious.

“What’s the rush now? We need to get something in to them to see this? Why can’t it be July 1?” he asked, noting the beginning of the new fiscal year. “I’m not necessarily against it; there should always be room in budgets to do studies and look at things . . . (But) can’t it be debated, budgeted and a board meeting comes up in July or September?”

Mayor Roland Michaud responded.

“Whereas you may think we could delay it – and we probably could, though I don’t see the reason why we’d want to – it’s just the preliminary planning process . . . (The study is) looking at the total picture of traffic from Flag Pond to the river, and what’s the best way to get traffic that’s coming in on (Routes) 5 and in on 112 in the morning that’s backing up and cutting through on their way to get on the interstate, and how can we alleviate that?”

Sutherland said he has heard from residents about traffic issues over the years. All of Saco Public Works’ proposals for solutions for issues have been shortterm instead of long-term, and these would include a number of one-ways and an inability to turn left onto Route 112 from certain roads, as well as a roundabout at the end of Industrial Park Road, he said.

“There are a lot of possible solutions, but they’re all very costly and they’re only short-term solutions. They’re not getting at the crux of the problem,” he said. “I initially requested Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority look at, what else can we be doing about the intersection at Exit 36? All I’m doing is trying to give a visual to the state to say, take a look at this. Consider this. They came back and said Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority have said they’ll cover 80 percent of a feasibility study to have an engineer come in and analyze the area and determine the best solution.”

Because Saco will commit up to $40,000 for the study – or less if the total amount is less than is projected – it will have a final say in what the design will be, Sutherland said.

“(We could say that) while the cheapest solution might be X, we prefer Y, which could cost a little more but could be the better solution for our community,” he said. “So we have a little buy-in in terms of ultimately deciding where this project could go if it were found to be feasible and affordable.”

Sutherland said over the years there have been requests for additional on-off exits, but if Maine Turnpike Authority is not interested in adding additional exits – which it likely won’t be – Saco needs to enhance the ones it has.

“It wouldn’t be another exit; it’d be reconfiguring the current exit to allow traffic to get onto 95 from 112 on the other side of the highway, rather than having to come over 95 on 112,” he said. “If you’re coming down 112, and if you’re coming from Dayton or Buxton, you cross over 95. Public works is on your left. You keep going all the way down until you hit Industrial Park Road and turn left. In the morning that could be backed up over the highway; it can be backed up so far.”

Sutherland said a lot of traffic on the highway comes from communities outside of Saco. He said he hoped Maine Turnpike Authority would consider a northwesterly spur off I-95, which goes to Old Orchard Beach, that would direct traffic toward Saco to keep it from having to go down Route 112 to Industrial Park Road to then get on the highway.

“What would really help Saco is, those residents who live between Industrial Park Road and this spur would connect on 112,” he said. “Those residents would be very positively impacted by their ability to turn on and off their side streets off of 112 if there is another way for a lot of that traffic to be diverted.”

It’s unknown when the study will be conducted or how long it will take, Sutherland said. He said the negative implication is there would be likely be some eminent domain purchasing – or buying of property – that people may not be inclined to sell if a project materializes.

Constructing a roundabout, for example, would require property to be purchased, but since this is a short-term solution it’s not a desirable one, he said.

“If we don’t participate in this and find a better way, we’re going to start implementing hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars . . . and we’re not going to fix the problem, we’re going to make incremental little differences,” said Public Works Director Pat Fox. “We’ve got to get the big players involved, and we got to get them focused on (Route) 112.”

“We’ll still be having to go back to the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Turnpike Authority to say we still have traffic issues, we have to find a solution – some sort of solution (if we don’t follow up with this study),” Sutherland said. “If it’s not a feasible study on this, it’s going to have to be money spent somewhere else in some other way.”

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