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Three-Way Plan to Upgrade Traffic Issues at Maine's The Downs

Mon July 12, 2021 - Northeast Edition
Scarborough Leader

A proposed five-year traffic improvement plan may come to fruition because of a three-way partnership between the town of Scarborough, the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) and developers of The Downs.

The 524-acre mixed-use community is in the heart of Scarborough in southern Maine and is to feature a vibrant town center and an innovation district. It will be made up of residential, commercial and recreation space.

During a Scarborough Town Council workshop in late June, developers and town staff explained that traffic movement permitting, required by MaineDOT for new development at The Downs, is an opportunity for the community to improve traffic without increasing taxes.

The Downs is close to many major road networks in Scarborough and its construction will improve at least 30 intersections in town, some more substantial than others, according to Dan Bacon, the project's developer.

"It really will impact and better the key corridors in the community that everyone thinks of — the U.S. Route 1 corridor, the Payne Road corridor, including South Portland," Bacon told the Scarborough Leader.

"So, the Payne Road corridor turns into Maine Mall Road, and it's one regional corridor, not just a jurisdictional corridor, so we're making improvements working with both [the town and MaineDOT] along that entire corridor, all the way up to the Best Buy entrance or the Maine Mall entrance on Maine Mall Road. We're also working on signals at Eight Corners, Haigis Parkway improvements, and even out to north Scarborough."

Roccy Risbara, another of the developers of The Downs, said program funding would come from three sources: the MaineDOT Business Partnership Initiative, totaling $3 million or an allocation of $1 million each year for three years; the town of Scarborough's impact fee share, totaling $2.8 million; and The Downs' project share of $8.2 million.

He added that MaineDOT's $3 million commitment is "a big deal" for the citizens of Scarborough to get that benefit from the state.

The town's impact fees also are heavily counted on to make the needed traffic plan a reality, Risbara noted to the Scarborough news source.

"These are monies that have been collected over time from developers for improvements, and we'll take that money, put it together with ours and [those from the state], and we can make some really big improvements," he said in remarks to the Leader. "We're funding the rest of the balance on that."

Going forward, Risbara and his fellow developers must enter a memorandum of understanding with the town.

He added, "Through this process, my take on it is [MaineDOT] then stepped up and said, ‘We have a program that we can assist with because we know that there are these ongoing problems that have been in [Scarborough] for years, and we'd like to help fix them.'"

This agreement would give the town a chance to use the impact fees as well as plan for future use of the fees, said Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall.

"What we're doing is in accordance [with] what we're collecting the funds for," he said. "The reason we haven't put them to use to date is we either hadn't had enough or the timing hasn't been right, and this gives us the chance to leverage other resources to do bigger projects, including what we're committed to do already."

Jay Chace, Scarborough's town planner, said one benefit of the agreement would be that the plan's timespan would better help coordinate the construction efforts to minimize distribution from construction sequencing, leverage funds from MaineDOT, and provide efficiencies in project administration.

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