WISCASSET, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The town of Wiscasset is taking the Maine Department of Transportation to court, to force changes in the DOT’s plan for traffic improvements in the downtown section of Route One. It’s the latest step in a long-running debate involving the DOT, a local citizen group and now the town.
The Maine DOT wants to eliminate Main Street parking, widen sidewalks and install traffic signals with walk lights in the downtown, which the agency says will reduce summertime traffic jams. It also plans to demolish the former Haggett Garage to make a new parking area on a side street.
Townspeople voted in favor of the DOT plan in June of 2016, but voted against a number of changes to it in June of this year. Since then there has been ongoing opposition from some business owners and others, although there are also a number of residents who support the plan.
Now, state Senator Dana Dow wants the Legislature to get involved, because he says the current plan would harm businesses.
"You just can’t take parking away and be the only main street in Maine that doesn’t have parking for the community. That’s an experiment I don’t want to try," said Dow.
He is asking Legislative leaders to allow his bill to be heard in the winter session. That bill would essentially direct the MDOT to revise its plans and keep Main Street parking. But selectmen in two neighboring towns are telling Dow to stay out of it, and not delay any traffic improvements. Alna selectman Doug Boston has asked a total of five towns to sign on to a letter to Sen. Dow, asking him to drop the bill and let Wiscasset and the MDOT work it out.
"I’m not a traffic engineer," said Boston, "neither is he. So we ought to leave it to traffic engineers to design traffic."
He said Alna and Edgecomb have signed onto the letter, and that three other towns are waiting to bring it up at upcoming meetings.
The Legislative Council will decide Thursday whether to allow Dow's bill.
However, the lawsuit filed by the town could get to the same issue more quickly. According to a statement in the Wiscasset newspaper, the town wants to require the DOT to keep Main Street parking and follow town ordinances with the project.
The Maine DOT sent its own statement, saying it is "disappointed" by the suit. It also said attorneys for the state and the town are working on an agreement to delay demolition of the old garage, which has become part of the controversy. The garage was a car dealership for decades but has more recently been used for offices. The DOT took the property by eminent domain and hopes to replace it with off-street parking. But some residents claim the building is historic and should not be taken down.