2017-11-24 / Front Page

Lower Village upgrades pegged at $5 million

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — A year after deciding Kennebunk needs a new solution for traffic congestion in its Lower Village tourist Mecca, selectmen now have a preview of what those upgrades might look like, along with a price tag for the the recommended changes.

In April, the board chose Harriman from among eight applicants for the gig, paying $75,000 for the firm’s assessment of all four approaches to Coopers Corner, where Port Road meets Beach and Western avenues.

Since April, Harriman, in partnership with South Portland engineering firm Sebago Technics, has conducted three public workshop presentations, led a streetside walking tour, interviewed more than 20 district business owners, conducted a survey answered by 108 locals, and sat in on nine meetings of the master planning offshoot of the town’s Lower Village Commit- tee.

“This involved reframing the Lower Village as a place of year-round quality,” Harriman principal Steven Cecil said at the Nov. 14 selectmen’s meeting. “This balance of tourism and residence, it should work for everybody. That was a clear goal and today it doesn’t work for everybody all the time, at all.”

The final result, according to Cecil, is a recommendation for a phased project that will cost “about $5 million” in all. A final report detailing the suggested components of that work is expected to be done and delivered to Town Manager Mike Pardue, “in the next couple of weeks,” Cecil said.

According to Cecil, there are a number of options to shift some of the burden of the work off of residential taxpayers. Some money could from from the town’s tax increment financing (TIF) districts, while the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) might kick in as much as $500,000 under its Municipal Partnership Initiative. Meanwhile, MDOT has a Business Partnership Initiative that could cover as much as $1 million beyond that.

However selectmen elect to phase in and pay for the recommended construction, Pardue said any actual work is, “two years out, at best.”

Cecil said he recommends starting at the Cooper’s Corner intersection with an eye toward alleviating what is, “an awkward circulation pattern that really gets amplified during the summer tourism season,” while at the same time working to “reinforce it as a district with its own identity.”

“Once you get Cooper’s Corner operating better and it’s attractive, functions better as a gateway and lowers congestions, it sets the stage for each one of the connections going out,” he said.

As with the roads leading in and out of the corner, the bulk of the work involves “expanding and better defining sidewalks.” Cecil said at least one crosswalk could be better located, while the traffic signal could be connected to sensors on Western Avenue that could detect the end of the line trying to get across the Mathew Lanigan bridge into Kennebunkport’s Dock Square. That, he said, would prevent cars from getting backed up all the way to the intersection by only letting cars go when there was room enough to absorb the flow.

On Port Road, Cecil said, the goal is to “create a balance between the curb cuts, the sidewalks, and the landscaping.” That would include banning on-street parking within 20 feet of an intersection or crosswalk.

“It’s not a safe condition today when people jam in every available inch along that edge [of the road],” he said, telling selectmen the change would not cost any actual parking spaces, but would eliminate about a dozen places where cars park now despite the absence of a delineated spot.

The part of the project, ballparked at $900,000, would include new sidewalks on both sides of the road, as well as a bike lane on the north side going up the hill. The downhill lane would be painted with a “sharrow” — an arrow indicating the lane is to be shared between bicycles and automobiles.

Port Road also would be redesigned with “consolidated and improved driveways,” to combat “a ton of asphalt and undirected movement,” Cecil said, although he acknowledged there would be a fair amount of work required to pinpoint the exact bounds of the right-of-way controlled by the town.

“To really come up with a solution we are going to have to really work with the property owners,” he said. “It will take a little bit of time to work that through.”

On Beach Avenue, where work was estimated at $800,000, Cecil said Harriman will pitch new sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of the roadway, along with improved street lighting that starts out tall and then becomes “pedestrian scale” as it gets closer to the corner.

Harriman also encourages the town to petition MDOT to reduce the speed limit to 25 mph on all roads leading to the intersection.

Western Avenue also is targeted for new sidewalks, where space allows.

“There are some driveways and parking lots were the asphalt from Western Avenue and the lots are just one and the same,” Cecil said. “A simple sidewalk and curb with landscaping would really clean up that edge and provide a better pedestrian place. There are sidewalks there, but it’s time to make it better.

“A really important idea is to have a high-quality, walkable area that is enjoyable,” he added. “From a business standpoint, believe it or not, you don’t actually want people parked in front of every door. You want people walking around and looking at the different opportunities and businesses and having that kind of an experience. It’s a balancing act, but the balance, fundamentally, when you get down to it, is basic safety.”

Selectmen started to parse some of the suggestions, but board chairman Dick Morin said that will be a debate for another day, after the final report is in hand.

“I think we’ve worked really well together [with the Lower Village committee] to establish a concept design and to draw consensus and get a vision and document how to move ahead,” Cecil said. “The town will have to make a decision on how to proceed, but it will have the tools needed to do that.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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