A proposed change to traffic flow would give one side of Congress Street diagonal parking to add spaces, but would likely reduce the downtown street to one traffic lane. The town is asking the public to weigh in on the idea during public hearings on June 16 and June 25. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — Business owners and residents are being asked to weigh in on a traffic flow proposal that would place diagonal parking along one side of Congress Street.

The move would add more than a dozen parking spaces downtown, which Economic Development Director George O’Keefe said can anticipate a surge of occupancy in the upcoming months.

“This is only a proposal for input to provide additional parking,” Town Manager Stacy Carter said. “This has not been approved but is very worthwhile to consider before we have the street painted for parking. There are definite pros and cons to the change.”

The 6 p.m. public hearings will take place in the Town Hall auditorium on June 16 and June 25. There will be a 50-person maximum to abide by the Governor’s order, as well as to maintain social distancing.

Carter told the Board of Selectmen on May 21 that he wanted a direction for the proposal before the final paving and parking plans are done for the downtown.

“I wanted to be forward thinking, because once you get the parking scheme painted out, changing it is going to be very difficult,” he said. “We do have some empty storefronts down there, but we also have a lot of interest in the Island. George (O’Keefe) is working extremely hard. He is taking a lot of calls and put out a lot of calls, and see that we have a lot of growth coming.

“And I don’t think it’s going to be a whole lot of time before all of our storefronts are going to be full, and we’re going to be looking at new ways to bring growth to the Island,” added Carter.

He said diagonal parking would also make Congress Street a one-lane road, which is a significant change.

“In today’s day and age, there are a pretty fair number of people that cannot park parallel, so it limits their ability to park on Congress Street, particularly some of the older folks.”

Selectman Frank DiConzo said that years ago the town tried to make Congress Street one lane and that traffic congestion was worse.

Selectman Peter Chase said that he didn’t think the parking problems on Congress Street were as bad as they used to be. “We don’t have the businesses down there that we used to have,” Chase said.

“We’ve got a church down there. We don’t have that big department store that was there. We have several vacant lots. We have the one in back of Tri-County. We have Wardwell’s place. I don’t see it being a problem. If it is, make the employees park elsewhere,” Chase said.

Town Attorney Jennifer Kreckel, who has a business at 95 Congress St., said she agreed with Carter that diagonal parking is a better use of space.

“I think it is difficult for many of our citizens to parallel park,” Kreckel said. “I don’t think you have full utilization of Congress Street with parallel parking at this point.

“We are getting to the point where we have developers coming to the area, and while we may not be at the pinnacle of it yet, we’re at the start of it, and things are changing. And once we get the hotel in, I anticipate that there’s going to be more traffic downtown than we have currently, even without all the stores developed. I think having the public meeting is a really good idea before you put the paint on the pavement,” she said.

O’Keefe said with the new businesses coming in he is expecting parking to become a greater issue.

“We are most definitely getting to a point where we’re going to have quite a bit of new occupancy on the Island over the next six to 18 months,” O’Keefe said. “I regularly get concerns from business owners and possible developers who are standing on the street with me on Congress Street about the amount of parking available there, and what it will look like in the event that they come and locate to the area and there’s growth.”

He agreed that some of that is related to employees from the businesses who will probably need to park on River Street.

“I would strongly recommend that you very seriously consider this proposal,” said O’Keefe. “The merchants I’ve spoken to about this proposal are universally in favor of it, and they actually had very strong feelings about it, in favor.”

Road Commissioner Dale Roberts recalled seeing two vehicles parked diagonally down by the community center recently, and there was still quite a bit of room. “I don’t see a problem with change. Some people don’t like it, but it might be a good idea to do.”

Board Chairman Chris Brennick indicated he has mixed feelings on parallel versus diagonal parking, but said the town should hear from the public.

“I hate parallel parking, so I’d love to see this,” he said. “My biggest concern is loading and unloading. I think right now, we have a really great system where we have two lanes, so if Good Karma has a shipment come in, they can take a lane and we don’t have to worry about parking.”

Roberts said that with deliveries, perhaps they could deliver during a certain time frame so it has limited impact on traffic.

Chase said, “I’d have a pretty grave concern if there’s a UPS truck delivering, say at Jennifer’s, and you’re down to a one-lane road, if the fire truck needs to get through, what are they going to do? Are they going to have room to get through there?”

DiConzo asked Roberts how this might impact winter plowing and the use of a bucket loader on the one lane road.

Roberts responded, “We have a bucket loader down there all the time during winter storms. It’s something to look at.”

“If we have a public meeting or two, and we really need feedback and the board is kinda chewing on this, I think that’s healthy,” Brennick said. “And we let the merchants on the Island, or even potential merchants on the Island, tell us how this affects them.”

Selectman John Pepin said, “That’s the beauty of having the input of business owners in the downtown. Present that to them and see what they have to say about it.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: