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April 13, 2018

Wiscasset voters to weigh in on town's lawsuit against MDOT

Renderings / Courtesy Maine Department of Transportation
Renderings / Courtesy Maine Department of Transportation
MDOT's plans for improving traffic flow through downtown Wiscasset call for adding traffic signals, loading areas, landscaping and amenities, while eliminating most on-street parking in the downtown along Route 1. Both views are from a vantage point just downhill of Red's Eats.

Wiscasset voters will weigh in next week on the town's lawsuit against the Maine Department of Transportation over its controversial plan to ease downtown congestion.

At a special town meeting Tuesday, April 17, voters will be asked to vote on the following: "Do you wish to continue with the lawsuit filed by the Town of Wiscasset against the Maine Department of Transportation regarding the Wiscasset Downtown Project?"

Voting is scheduled to take place at the Wiscasset Community Center from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Marian Anderson, the town's manager, told the Wiscasset Newspaper earlier this week that the vote would go ahead regardless of what happens at today's scheduled court hearing on the town's motion for a preliminary injunction against the MDOT.

She also said that while the town has set aside additional funds in the 2018-2019 budget to cover its legal fees, that may not be enough.

"We didn't budget hundreds of thousands of dollars," Anderson told the newspaper, adding that she couldn't say what the final tab would be.

MDOT's project aims to alleviate bottlenecks on U.S. Route 1 by removing most on-street parking on Wiscasset's Main Street, home to Red's Eats and a cluster of art and antique shops and the cornerstone of a historic district. (Red's Eats, where customers line up even before lunchtime for its famous lobster rolls, is due to open for the season on Monday.)

MDOT's plan also calls for adding traffic control signals and pedestrian crosswalk signals, rebuilding sidewalks "to enhance pedestrian mobility," and making improvements to Route 1. The parking piece has been the biggest bone of contention, with some businesses afraid of losing storefront Main Street parking and others welcoming the idea of having more spaces in town regardless of where they are located.

In its request for a preliminary injunction filed in March, the Town of Wiscasset asks that MDOT be prevented from starting any work on its project — including removing parking spaces — until it gets the green light from the Wiscasset Historic Preservation Commission.

In its latest, seven-page filing in the case dated April 6, the Town of Wiscasset argues that the MDOT "does not possess untrammeled authority to do what it wants in Wiscasset or elsewhere in Maine."

Not seeking a veto

Wiscasset maintains that it is not seeking a veto right over the project, but is asserting its rights under Maine law to have its interests taken into consideration "in connection with the version of the project that will actually be constructed."

MDOT, in its response to the town's motion, again explains the rationale for the project to alleviate summer traffic congestion and improve pedestrian safety.

It also notes that the project is the result of extensive planning and design work, during which the agency worked extensively with the town's public advisory committee appointed by the Select Board, and during which MDOT "sought, received and considered a wide range of public comment."

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