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September 21, 2017

MDOT project puts downtown Wiscasset on 'most endangered historic places' list

The Maine Department of Transportation’s project to improve traffic flow and safety on Route 1 through downtown Wiscasset is being cited by Maine Preservation as a threat to the town’s historic district.

The Lincoln County News reported that MDOT’s traffic project through downtown Wiscasset includes elimination of parking on Main Street, use of eminent domain and choosing to forgo federal funds in order to sidestep historic preservation standards.

The newspaper interviewed Greg Paxton, executive director of Maine Preservation, who said Wiscasset’s historic district is one of the first to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and that the proposed elimination of downtown parking “will have a devastating effect on the businesses there.”

That perceived threat is among the reasons cited by Maine Preservation for including downtown Wiscasset in its 19th Most Endangered Historic Places List, an annual listing that identifies historic properties threatened by development, demolition or neglect. As reported by Mainebiz earlier this month, another MDOT project, the proposed replacement of the Frank J. Wood Bridge crossing the Androscoggin River between Topsham and Brunswick, also is cited in this year’s list. 

MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot told the newspaper that the department “takes very seriously the consideration of impacts to historic places and properties in its decision-making.”

A FAQs page on the MDOT website about the Wiscasset project notes that eliminating on-street parking in downtown Wiscasset is a key element of its preferred option for improving traffic flow in what has historically been a significant Route 1 bottleneck during the peak summer tourism season.

“Removing on-street parking from Main Street will eliminate the stop-and-go delays caused by motorists turning into and backing out of the parking spaces,” MDOT stated. “With a wider sidewalk that is possible by removing the on-street parking, pedestrians and shoppers will be provided a more pleasant downtown experience. Also, the wider sidewalks allow the installation of attractive bollards to prevent mid-block jaywalking instead of proposed centerline barriers. The elimination of this on-street parking was an important aspect of the design option that was supported by the Wiscasset voters and that received a unanimous vote of the Wiscasset Select Board.” 

The Lincoln County News reported that the Wiscasset Historic Preservation Commission — charged with reviewing construction and renovation projects in the district in order to prevent alterations that would change the historic character of the properties that make Wiscasset a historically significant location — has itself also been placed on Maine Preservation’s list, due to an upcoming town vote on whether to repeal the historic preservation ordinance that created the commission.


Maine Preservation's 2017 Most Endangered Historic Places List

Maine Department of Transportation FAQs on Wiscasset project

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