BATH — Residents along Richardson Street and Western Avenue in Bath say they’re tired of dealing with endless traffic on their narrow, residential streets.

Richardson Street, in particular, supports a much higher volume of traffic than a typical residential street. Surveys of the area show thousands of cars passing over it each day, some of which are large trucks hauling trailers.

“That street is too narrow to handle the type of traffic that we’re getting on that street,” said Wayne Fortier, a resident.

The city had been looking into changes or restrictions on truck and other vehicle traffic along the street until they ran into a snag in December: Due to the volume and nature of traffic, it’s classified as a “state aid road.” That means the state needs to be part of the process when any changes are made.

Fortier and other residents said that the state should change the designation of the roadway to improve the area, but Peter Coughlin of the Maine Department of Transportation said it isn’t so simple.

“The classification of the road has been a state-aid collector for decades,” he said.

He highlighted that with a map from 1928 that indicates Richardson Street in red pencil. The road classification, he said, is based on the amount of traffic and an objective formula applied to all roads in the state.

The only way to change the classification is to change the functionality of the road.

Changing the functionality is exactly the subject of a study the city commissioned through Gorrill Palmer, an engineering firm from South Portland. Don Ettinger of Gorrill Palmer said the firm has investigated several traffic-calming methods that could help reduce the amount of traffic on Richardson Street.

Among those options are raised speed tables and gateway chokers, which would both slow traffic down and make it less appealing to use Richardson Street as a throughway between Route 1 and High Street.

A raised speed table is similar to a speed bump, only the “bump” is spread over a larger area. A gateway choker is similar to the bump-outs found at crosswalks. It’s a narrowing of the roadway, forcing cars to be more cautious when entering a new area.

If traffic calming methods – which can be temporary – could decrease the amount of traffic, it could reduce the road’s classification.

“I’ll be the first one to say it ought to be a local road, it’s yours,” said Coughlin.

John W. James, a resident on the corner of Richardson and High streets, said he’s been dealing with the traffic for decades. “I’ve been painfully aware for 42 years of what the impact of BIW’s traffic is.”

He said the traffic calming methods could work, but would likely be stymied by people continuing to use the road regardless of any changes.

“We’re all creatures of habit, and I can guarantee you everybody that lives in South Bath, everybody that comes up from Phippsburg, they’re going to use those two side streets no matter what you put in their way,” he said.

James suggested that the state move Route 209 off of High Street and onto Washington Street, and install stop signs along High Street to impede traffic. “You return South Bath to the residential neighborhood it used to be.”

Regardless of method, Bath’s Director of Planning and Development Andrew Deci said more public participation in the process would help the city find a solution that works for everyone. With only a handful of residents present at the public meeting, he expressed worry that any change would generate a negative reaction.

“As soon as we make a decision, and start doing things in the street, the 65 properties that aren’t here, are going to say, ‘what are you doing on my street?’” he said. “I kind of feel like no matter which option I go here, I’m not going to make the right decision, and that’s what’s making this process so complex.”

Regardless of the eventual decision, more study needs to be done to ensure that any traffic diverted from Richardson Street doesn’t simply shift to a neighboring one, starting the problem all over again.

The more time it takes, said Fortier, the more frustrating the process gets.

“If I live long enough, we may eventually see a change because of that. When it could have been changed because of common sense.”

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