Wiscasset’s April 17 “no” vote showed that voters feared the town would become mired in an expensive lawsuit against the Maine Department of Transportation, forcing their taxes up. It was not a vote in favor of MDOT’s Option 2, however. In fact, in June 2017, Wiscasset voters, in a binding referendum, rejected changes MDOT unilaterally made to Option 2 after a non-binding vote in June 2016.

Option 2’s problems haven’t gone away. First, Wiscasset’s code enforcement officer notified MDOT on Nov. 17, 2017, that it must comply with the town’s historic preservation ordinance by submitting an application for a “certificate of appropriateness” before making changes in the historic district. So far, MDOT hasn’t done this.

Second, Option 2 will do little to relieve summer traffic congestion. MDOT says it will improve traffic through-put by only 4 percent for just a few years and reduce wait times by about 15 seconds. A MDOT engineer warned publicly that traffic will still back up at peak times.

According to MDOT’s latest cost estimates, Option 2’s price tag has exploded to over $6.8 million, not including the costs of unnecessary demolition of the Haggett building.

Third, an independent engineer offered imaginative solutions and credible challenges to MDOT’s engineering studies, but neither MDOT nor Wiscasset’s town manager has proved willing to consider these in an open forum.
Fourth, Option 2 still puts our small businesses in jeopardy by removing storefront parking.

Wiscasset’s lawsuit raised awareness that traffic management techniques could help MDOT meet the requirements of the 1991 Maine Sensible Transportation Policy Act, which mandates attention to community input, comprehensive plans and ordinances, and alternatives to costly construction. For example, through smart technologies, a sophisticated system of live-time alerts could help keep traffic moving.

The fight to defend Wiscasset against MDOT’s ill-conceived Option 2 and refusal to abide by town and state law is far from over. Maine citizens are watching to see if MDOT will continue to threaten historic towns and small businesses and ignore the law.

Seaver Leslie