Local business leaders respond to traffic study

12 years ago

Local business leaders respond to traffic study

Staff photo/Kathy McCarty

NE-PI Council TrafficPIBA-clr-c-sh-49

    TONY SULLIVAN speaks on behalf of the Presque Isle Business Association with regard to a recent traffic study that, if implemented, would have what he calls a “negative impact” on many downtown businesses.

City Manager Jim Bennett listens as Sullivan, owner of Governor’s Restaurant on Main Street, provides details of what the association would like to see happen instead of changes proposed by the study, including completion of the connector route from Fort Road to the Conant Road.



By Kathy McCarty
Staff Writer

    PRESQUE ISLE — Council chambers was filled to capacity Monday, with numerous business leaders and citizens attending to share concerns over a traffic study that was prepared recently that addressed the movement of vehicles and pedestrians downtown.

    Following a meeting Nov. 17 at the Northeastland Hotel with state and city officials and survey consultants, business leaders formed a group called the Downtown Business Association — an organization made up of those opposed to some or all of the study’s suggestions, including demolition of historic sites like Governor’s Restaurant and reduction of traffic to two lanes. At Monday’s meeting, a representative of that group, Tony Sullivan, owner of Governor’s, shared those concerns with councilors.

ne-pi council trafficPIBA-clr-c2-sh-49Staff photo/Kathy McCarty
    STANDING ROOM ONLY — Council Chambers were packed for Monday’s meeting, with business leaders and concerned citizens on hand to express disapproval with a recent traffic study that suggested changes to the downtown that would negatively impact several businesses.

    Sullivan read from a prepared statement, highlighting items from a 10-point memorandum provided to City Manager Jim Bennett on Dec. 1.
    “It’s been nearly a month since City Manager Bennett called myself and several of my peer business owners to his office to present this plan to us. We did not receive the information from him as a conceptual design as he now states it to be, but rather as a working document and design that was to be completed within the coming three to five years,” said Sullivan.
    Sullivan said since the study first came to light, business owners have received an outpouring of concern from citizens.
    “We began receiving calls and visits from literally hundreds of Presque Isle residents — all who were in opposition. A week later we met at the Northeastland, which by all accounts was a forum for the citizens to state they do not want this plan,” said Sullivan. “If you were not in attendance, you missed the largest single outpouring of citizens who came for the sole purpose of opposing this design, since the city proposed a municipal center in the Riverside area nearly 25 years ago. The crowd was estimated at 400 to 500 people.”
    Sullivan said some of the components of the plan that have been received “in the most negative manner include the rerouting and closing of the Riverside Drive sections and stopping traffic from turning in the center square of town. The removal of historic buildings and reshaping our traffic pattern, as well as the two-lane Main Street concept are also very unpopular.”
    He said the association also “takes issue with the assertion that the downtown is dying and needs a major overhaul.”
    “With the addition of over eight businesses and the Braden Theatre in the last five years, the area is on the rise. We want to have some further incremental enhancements to keep this trend going. To this end, we have compiled this document of 10 points which reflect the comments, concerns and ideas that have been expressed,” Sullivan said.
    Among the items covered in the memorandum, Sullivan said the group requested work commissioned by the Council in regard to the downtown grant performed by Eaton Peabody/Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers be stopped and requested conceptual design be scrapped.
    “We further request that an accounting of money paid for the engineers’ services be obtained from them, and if any further grant funds budgeted are not already expended, we want those funds used to study the pedestrian safety issues that the Downtown Revitalization Committee identified in a joint meeting last Thursday at the library,” he said.
    Sullivan also requested Lead Engineer Russell Charette from the MDOT be invited to Presque Isle “for the purpose of meeting with the Council, the Planning Board, the DRC and concerned citizens to discuss how we as a community can help them to move their project of the truck connector portion of Alignment 7, which runs from the Fort Road to the Conant Road.” He indicated Charette “has given us a proposed timeline of construction beginning in 2013.”
    Once complete, this route will allow large truck traffic traveling east and west to have a route outside of the Main Street corridor, alleviating the biggest concern for downtown businesses and citizens traveling through the heart of town.
    Sullivan said the city has “many dedicated and experienced staff members as well as boards.”
    “We want the Council to direct the city manager to allow them to do their jobs and work for the citizens on plans and projects which will benefit our city,” said Sullivan, giving as examples Ken Arndt, director of planning and development, the Planning Board, and Industrial Council Executive Director Larry Clark. “We are not making use of these valuable resources already here on the payroll of the city. We need them to be allowed to do their jobs.”
    Pedestrian safety continues to be a problem downtown, according to Sullivan. He suggested two ways to address this problem would be to have police enforce laws with regard to speeders and vehicles not stopping for crosswalks, as well as marking crosswalks to make them more noticeable.
    “It is our hope that you will take our comments to heart and enact them immediately. It is not just the group assembled in this room who are asking, it is the many hundreds of Presque Isle citizens who are asking. It is their wish this be handled immediately,” said Sullivan.
    In a nutshell, business leaders see the connector as a solution to much of the traffic and safety concerns downtown. Once built, truck traffic would be diverted and the safety level would improve, resolving recent concerns and negating the need for changes proposed by the study.
    “Should this not be dealt with in a manner that meets the citizens’ needs and concerns, we are prepared to use the charter of Presque Isle to direct future proceedings which will allow the citizens to have the final say. None of us want that to occur if it is not absolutely necessary,” said Sullivan. “Here is our olive branch — how you decide to use it is your decision.”
    Councilor Mel Hovey sympathized with Sullivan.
    “Let me assure you that this Council is on the same page as you are. We want for downtown the same as you do. How we got off on the wrong foot, I don’t know,” said Hovey, noting councilors’ support for local businesses.
    “To some degree, I think the group isn’t giving us a chance. This was a concept, that’s all it was,” said Hovey, adding he hoped councilors and members of the association could get together to work things out.
    Council Chair Emily Smith recalled how the DRC came to the Council requesting a traffic study.
    “I hope we can at least get you some of the information out of that grant. In no way did anyone want to circumvent the DRC, the Planning Board. That was not the intent at all. We saw (the study) the same time as everyone else. I didn’t like it either,” said Smith. “We’re (Council) taking a lot of heat for authorizing a grant we thought would benefit everyone. Just because the end product (is something) you can’t smile and say ‘I’m fine with,’ we had to give it a shot.”
    Bennett apologized to local business leaders for the miscommunication.
    “Any individuals who met with me thinking it was a done deal, I’m sorry and deeply regret any misunderstanding. My intention wasn’t anything but to create a better tomorrow. You can look at my track record over 30 years. Anywhere I’ve been, downtown got better,” said Bennett. “This concept was just lines on a paper. The intention here was to provide information, consultants would look at, then come up with an alternative. I’m sorry people didn’t understand that.”
    Sullivan noted there’d been a lot of confusion as to what downtown business leaders wanted but that he’d clarified their desire to move ahead with the connector route.
    “You told us what you didn’t want. Truth be known, Jim stirred the pot. It’s up to you businesspeople to step in and help out, (not complain),” said Councilor Bruce Sargent. “Everyone’s got a gripe.”
    Patty LeBlanc, of the DRC, said, “I think you’ve got plenty of people onboard,” as she looked around at the dozens in the audience.
    Business owner Craig Green said he’d spoke to Mr. Charette with regard to the connector.
    “Charette told me ‘If you have any pull with the Council, find what exactly they want. If they want a truck phase to Easton done, they should emphasize that to the legislature.’ That’s a critical piece to what we want downtown,” said Green.
    LeBlanc said the DRC’s been involved with “these concerned citizens.”
    “Jim’s apologized, but if any of you had $25 million just sitting around for 20 years (funds that are currently earmarked for connector), you would have made a decision by now. We talked to Mr. Charette in Augusta. We don’t like the word ‘bypass.’ We don’t want a bypass. A truck route is all we want. The second thing we can do is signage and minor changes for speed enforcement, etc., to address safety downtown,” LeBlanc said. “I’d take the $25 million and build the connector. Caribou did and is almost done. Why is Presque Isle sitting on getting the connector built? It would alleviate 90 percent of the traffic problem just by moving trucks. Trucks don’t like (traveling downtown) any better than we do.”
    Tom Clukey, owner of Clukey’s Auto Supply, said “If the goal was to get people concerned, it did.”
    “I’ve never seen anything like the meeting at the Northeastland. It got people speaking. I’ve never been to a DRC meeting in my life — been to every one since. A connector would solve truck issues. If we can get that through, we can accomplish what we want to without wrecking things,” said Clukey. “The Presque Isle Business Association isn’t on a witch hunt. But we are going to be heard and get our opinions out.”