The state has proposed a traffic signal at the driveway exit from Rolly’s Diner onto Mill Street in Auburn. (Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover)

AUBURN — State transportation officials and a local committee have differing opinions on a proposed intersection overhaul on Mill and Main streets, a project that has the popular Rolly’s Diner front and center.

The proposed design of the intersection of Mill and Main streets would add a traffic signal at the exit drive of Rolly’s Diner. City of Auburn

The proposed design would add a traffic signal at the driveway exit from the diner onto Mill Street, an addition the Complete Streets Committee believes will create “significant inefficiencies” at the intersection.

The Complete Streets Committee, which works to promote public infrastructure projects in Lewiston-Auburn that best support all users, not just motorists, passed a unanimous motion against this component of the concept, arguing that adding a fifth signal to the intersection will shut down the overall intersection and exacerbate congestion “where it is already challenged.”

Committee Vice Chairman Jeremiah Bartlett said Monday the new design would add to the average wait time at the busy intersection and add costs to the project. The traffic signal at the parking lot exit is estimated to be an extra $40,000, with the city’s share at $4,000.

The previous design — supported by the Maine Department of Transportation, city staff and the Complete Streets Committee — eliminated the curb cut onto Mill Street from Rolly’s, and allowed for two driveway entrances off Second Street. But, according to City Engineer Tony Beaulieu, the owners of Rolly’s Diner “did not find this option acceptable.”

During a City Council workshop Monday, councilors debated the merits of both designs.

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Councilor Leroy Walker of Ward 5, which includes New Auburn, took a passionate stance on the issue.

“Rolly’s has done more for the community down there than the city has done,” he said. “It’s been safe for the last 25 years, and it will be safe for the next 25.”

Walker said eliminating the driveway exit could impact the diner’s business, making traffic flow in and out of the restaurant more difficult for customers at an already tricky intersection.

Included in the response by the Complete Streets Committee was the opinion that a new traffic signal would add another crossing for pedestrians. The committee also argued the exit-only drive, coming up once per traffic signal cycle, “will likely have the majority of users exiting into the street without waiting for a green light, continuing the dangerous practice that exists there now.”

Bartlett also said he was concerned the decision could set a precedent in the city for upcoming projects.

“It appears that the driveway in question serves no purpose other than to reduce exit delays by seconds for patrons who have already been to the restaurant,” a memo from the committee read.

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Councilor Holly Lasagna said Monday one of the issues that “keeps surfacing” during the Auburn strategic planning meetings is the goal of having a “walkable city.”

“This goes against having a walkable city,” she said of the proposed design.

“In the end, we’re responsible for safety,” Councilor Bob Hayes added. “When you compare both plans, you have to look at what’s safest.”

Beaulieu said the signal outside Rolly’s would be an actuated signal, which means a video camera would trigger movement when a car is there.

He said an A-F rating system is used by the state regarding the number of seconds of delay for a vehicle during peak hours of operation. With the added signal, the intersection goes from a “C” rating, with a 27-second wait, to a “D” rating, with a 36-second wait.

The local project, no matter the layout, will update New Auburn with new lighting and landscaping. The upgrades to the area are part of a larger New Auburn redevelopment project, which will result in a new riverway road, walking trail, green space and commercial space.

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Mayor Jason Levesque said Tuesday no matter the intersection design, he sees the overall project as important for New Auburn.

“New Auburn needs to change from a cut-through to Lewiston to a vibrant downtown that has slower traffic, more pedestrians and vibrant businesses,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what New Auburn looks like in the next couple years.”

Regarding the design itself, Levesque said: “You have to respect the individual business owner during that redesign. I’m in favor of slowing traffic down there. The people from Minot, Poland and Mechanic Falls that use this as a cut-through might be a little aggravated, but they should just move to Auburn.”

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the intersection design Monday.

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