Payne Road solution approved, funding an issue

November 19th, 2009

By David Harry
Staff Writer

Plans to alleviate congestion at two Route 1 intersections will soon be submitted to the agency that provides funding for such projects.
But according to Paul Niehoff, a transportation planner with the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, it will be a while before rubber hits the newly improved road.
On Oct. 21, town councilors approved 6-1 a resolution calling for an amended plan to improve the intersections at Dunstan Corner while also improving the intersection of Haigis Parkway and Route 1, which is about two miles north.
The plan calls for additional left turn lanes from northbound Route 1 to Broadturn Road and Haigis Parkway, an extended turn lane from southbound Route 1 to Pine Point Road, additional right turn lanes to Route 1 from Pine Point Road and Haigis Parkway, and altering a plan to reduce traffic on Payne Road in favor of Route 1 and Haigis Parkway.
The last portion of the proposal provides the most dramatic change to plans Town Planner Dan Bacon said have been considered since 2002.
Efforts to reduce traffic on Payne Road by 20 percent could lead to the construction of a connecting road from Route 1 beginning to the north of Dunstan Corner restaurant.
The proposed road would arc behind the restaurant and end at Payne Road instead of an original idea to have the connector road meet with Payne Road further north at a point across Phelps Brook, said traffic engineer Bill Bray.
The change in routing the connector road reduces the cost of work in the area from at least $6.1 million to about $3 million and could allow for funding $2 million of improvements to the Haigis Parkway and Route 1 intersection.
“That intersection will fail in 2015 if you don’t do anything,” Bray said Route 1 and Haigis Parkway, because increased traffic in the area will lead to traffic jams caused in part by turning traffic lined up.
By adding a second left turn lane from northbound Route 1 and right and left turn lanes from Haigis Parkway to Route 1, traffic jams can be alleviated, Bray said.
The resolution supports a plan that puts an end to the idea of closing one end of Payne Road. That possibility was discussed by a committee formed by councilor Ron Ahlquist last winter in response to complaints about congestion and speeding on Payne Road.
Closing Payne Road at its southern end was opposed by business owners and some residents, including Jack Flaherty of Flaherty Family Farms, who feared the loss of traffic would put him out of business.
Ahlquist’s contention that Payne Road is primarily a residential road was disputed, and the council has temporarily set aside discussions of what can be done to control traffic on Payne Road.
In May 2008, the town received a $180,000 grant from PACTS to begin traffic studies at Dunstan Corner, and Town Manager Tom Hall said $60,000 to $70,000 in matching town money is committed to the study. With the submission of the plans to PACTS, a study by engineers with the Maine Department of Transportation can begin.
Because PACTS officials made the grant to study the intersection, Niehoff said funding the construction work in the next biannual budget cycle starting in fiscal year 2011 was a strong possibility.
But there are 15 towns, from Freeport to the north, Biddeford to the south and Gorham to the west, competing for PACTS grants, which totaled about $14 million in the current biennial budget, Niehoff said.
Projects funded by PACTS usually use about 65 percent federal highway funds, 10 percent state highway funds and the rest in local money, Niehoff said.
Even then, Niehoff said, buying the rights of way and getting the permits to build the roads can take a long time.
“It could take a few years,” Niehoff said about construction work starting.
The resolution passed by a 6-1 vote with Councilor Karen D’Andrea opposing it. It was a decision she said troubled her because she would not be happy voting for or against it.
“We should be looking at ways to lessen traffic through public transportation infrastructure,” D’Andrea said before her vote.

Sherriff Investigating rash of Lakes Region Burglaries

November 12th, 2009

NAPLES, Maine — The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department is warning people in the Lakes Region about a rash of motor vehicle burglaries.Since Oct. 29, the department has received 26 complaints from car owners in the towns of Casco, Gray, Standish, Raymond with the majority happening in Naples.Officials said in most cases the vehicles were unlocked while parked at home.Two hunting rifles, from separate victims, were among the stolen items.No arrests have been made.The sheriff’s department asks that if you have any information that can help them solve these crimes, to call them at 774-1444.

Family bike trips in Standish and Windham Maine

November 4th, 2009

maine TransportationEven after a few of years of biking with my kids, who are now 11 and 13 years old, I am still not a fan of road riding, even when there are wide shoulders. Since I would like to enjoy myself and not stress about cars whizzing by, I have been motivated to find trails that keep my family off the motorized roadways. Luckily, we live in Maine, where there are several off-road (not to be confused with mountain biking) trails for my family to enjoy a stress-free day on two wheels.

A formerly packed gravel trail, the 5.7 miles of the Mountain Division Trail from Standish to Windham is now paved, and offers a smooth easy ride. The 0.9-mile Jeep trail in Standish connecting the Johnson Field trail head to the Mountain Division Trail is still packed gravel, but the trail heads in Gorham and Windham have paved trail spurs. There is one big hill near Otter Pond (on the Jeep trail in Standish) that younger bikers may choose to walk their bikes up (or down) because it’s a bit steep. But once at the pavement by the rails, it’s a fairly level trail.

There are four road crossings from Standish to Windham, and all but one are quiet roads (one road may take a couple of minutes to cross because of fast-moving cars). There are a lot of benches at various points along the trail for water breaks and picnic lunches.

Very often, we share the trail with horses (near the Johnson Field trail head), and my kids think that makes this trail extra special. For mountain bikers, the trail continues over Route 202 in Windham to Bridge Street in Westbrook on a rough gravel surface.

TRAIL: Mountain Division Trail
LENGTH: 5.7 miles one way
TOWNS: Standish, Gorham and Windham
TRAIL HEAD: Johnson Field on Route 35 in Standish, Gambo Recreational Center on Gambo Road in Windham and Shaw Park on Route 237 in Gorham.
BATHROOM: Porta-potty at each trail head
DOG-FRIENDLY: Yes, on a leash.
FUN STOP: The Blue Seal store at the end of the trail on Route 202 in Windham usually has a resident animal in the store (depending on the time of year, it could be baby chicks, bunnies, a lamb, dog or cat). There are also some tasty candy caramels at the counter that are worth the sweet indulgence after a fun ride with the family.
13-YEAR-OLD: “I really like the new pavement. It is sooo easy to ride on now. I also like seeing the horses on this trail. It’s pretty easy except for the giant hill before the railroad tracks. I really like this trail.”
11-YEAR-OLD: “This trail used to be a looooong ride but with the pavement it doesn’t feel so long. I like to see the horses and I like to look at the river. I am also happy I can visit the Blue Seal store because they always have animals to visit. And me and my mom and my sister really like the caramels they sell there.”

Public invited to weigh in on railroad plan

October 10th, 2009

Maine’s 1,100-mile rail system is reaching a crossroads.

Freight carriers, especially to the north, are finding it increasingly hard to stay afloat because of declines in the paper industry and other manufacturing sectors that have traditionally been heavy users of their rail lines.

At the same time, the push is on for more passenger service as a way to cut energy use, emissions and maintenance costs for streets, bridges and highways, and reduce sprawl.

Maine transportation officials are trying to sort out the issues by developing the state’s first comprehensive railroad plan, to assess the trends and come up with an investment plan.

The Department of Transportation is inviting the public to comment on what the state’s priorities should be, at a meeting from 6 to 8 tonight at the University of Southern Maine’s Glickman Library in Portland.

The plan, due out next year, will help Maine in its search for federal money for rail improvements and help the state set priorities for investment, said Nate Moulton, director of the transportation department’s rail program.

“We need to look hard and see what it is going to cost so we can report out what is doable,” said Moulton.

Transportation officials say that a robust freight rail system is important to Maine’s economy and environment.

Trains are less likely to spill hazardous substances than trucks.

A freight train can move a ton of freight an average of 436 miles on a gallon of fuel, according to the American Association of Railroads. A single train takes 280 trucks off Maine roads, easing traffic congestion and saving wear and tear on the roads.

For some manufacturers, freight trains are the cheapest way to move large quantities of heavy products over long distances.

The track mileage in Maine has shrunk more than 50 percent over the past century, from 2,295 miles in 1920. The state now owns 300 miles of track and is under pressure to buy more as railroad companies struggle.

State officials are considering whether to buy the 241 miles of track from Millinocket to Madawaska, now owned by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. The railway wants to abandon the track, worth about $17 million, because it is too expensive to maintain.

The question is whether the track would be profitable under state ownership and whether buying the track would prompt more abandonment by other rail companies.

Developing a railway plan will give transportation officials an overall strategy for ownership questions in the future, Moulton said.

The state also hopes to prioritize all competing interests for freight and passenger service in various regions.

“There are all kinds of demands. There is the Brunswick-Yarmouth-(Interstate) 295 corridor crowd, and the Mountain Division is beating the drum,” said Moulton.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, operator of Amtrak’s Downeaster service, is applying for $137 million in federal stimulus money to extend the line from Portland to Brunswick and make track improvements to shave 20 minutes of travel time between Portland and Boston.

Lewiston and Auburn officials are pushing for commuter rail in their region and the state is studying whether freight and passenger service could return to the Mountain Division line, from Westbrook to the New Hampshire border at Fryeburg.

Interest in passenger rail has exploded in recent years. Congress approved $2 billion over the next two years for the development of intercity commuter rail service. The federal government, states and regions are also at work on passenger rail plans.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and a member of the technical advisory committee that is helping to develop Maine’s plan, said the state needs a plan for maintaining service and ensuring there are enough riders.

The state’s only daily passenger service, the Downeaster, depends on about $1.6 million in state and $6 million in federal money annually to operate five daily round trips between Portland and Boston, which carry 266,000 passengers a year.

Neal Allen, executive director of the Greater Portland Council of Governments and a member of the advisory committee, said he expects tonight’s meeting to attract a large crowd.

“What is really important, in my view, is to think of the plan in terms of how it might integrate with a New England plan, ” he said.

There will be a second round of public meetings in November, when transportation officials will report their preliminary recommendations. The final plan will be available around Jan. 1.

Sour economy isn’t stopping many local entrepreneurs

July 31st, 2009
Carolina Tanguay of Raymond this week celebrated the opening of Lasting Impressions of Maine & Mainely Primitives, a Maine-made art and crafts store she runs on Route 302 in Windham along with her friend, Shirley Smith of Gorham. Tanguay said opening a new shop in a tough time should not be an obstacle to success. “We’re positive,” she said. “We see the bright side.” (Ben Bragdon photo)

By Ben Bragdon | Posted: Thursday, July 30, 2009 10:25 am | 0 comments

To Carolina Tanguay of Raymond, there are always reasons not to do something.

But those thoughts and attitudes, of a poor economy, of people with less spending money, of a summer shortened by bad weather, did not divert Tanguay, who this week opened a store specializing in Maine-made art and crafts on Route 302 in Windham. Confident in her business model, and in her dedication to do what it takes – paint walls, work long hours, network – to make her store successful.

“We’re positive,” said Tanguay, who with her friend Shirley Smith opened Lasting Impressions of Maine & Mainely Primitives. “We don’t see the dark side. We see the bright side.”

Tanguay and Smith are just two of the people who have bucked the negative notions of a sour economy and opened shop during what many people have called the worst business climate in decades. Many of the new business owners say they’ve had to take the economy into consideration when setting prices or deciding how to spend money. But there are opportunities as well, with low interest rates and rents, and the entrepreneurs feel they can weather the storm, and come out stronger on the other side.

“I think they are realistically looking ahead,” said Barbara Clark, executive director of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. Ribbon cuttings, which the Chamber performs for new businesses, are up 25 percent over last year at this time, Clark said.

An established real estate agent and business owner who ran the Frye’s Leap General Store and Cafe on Frye Island for 17 years, Lois O’Connor had been running her real estate business, Sunset Lakes Real Estate, out of her home. But after adding a few new real estate agents to her company, she decided to branch out, poor economy or no. When opening her office last week, she felt she had to be prepared when the market returns to form.

“I had to have an office. With the economy down, I have to grow the business,” O’Connor said. “When the market comes back, I’ll be ready for it.”

When a spot opened up next to Chute’s Cafe, on Route 302 in Casco, the opportunity was too good to pass up. The popular eating establishment would be a draw, she figured.

“The key thing in business on Route 302 is to try to get the traffic to slow down,” O’Connor said.

This way of thinking, to grab opportunity when it comes, regardless of other circumstances, is common in a stagnant business climate, said Mark Delisle, director of the Maine Small Business Development Center, which provides assistance to small business owners and entrepreneurs.

“There are some folks that are really good at looking for opportunities, and every economy has some opportunities,” said Delisle. “A lot of these really big companies were started in down economies////ANY EXAMPLES?///.”

The key, he said, is for business owners to take into account the prevalent economic factors. Capital is likely to be more difficult to obtain. Only smaller loans may be available, and at less desirable terms. Cash flow may not be as high as expected.

“You do want to be really conservative in case your revenue is not as high over the next 16-24 months,” Delisle said.

In the end, what matters most to a fledging business does not change with the economy, he said.

“The fundamentals are the same,” he said. “You have a solid business plan. You have all the right things in your business plan.”

Tourists streaming up and down Route 302 this summer was part of the plan for Buddy Basso, who with his wife, Linda, opened Basso’s Italian Market on Route 302 in Windham six months ago.

But he didn’t envision a start to the summer season that included two weeks of rain, which kept people at home and hurt all tourism-based businesses.

Luckily, Basso’s, which offers a variety of imported Italian foods, plus prepared meals, pizza, sandwiches and wine, has steadily built a solid base of customers who live in the area.

In some ways, the state of the economy helped. The Bassos were able to buy new, rather than used, cooking equipment at low prices because other eateries had closed and needed to sell. They also took the economy into account when setting prices.

“We kept prices down,” said Basso. “We tried to keep things in line with what was going on.”

Basso’s also offers products that aren’t offered elsewhere in Windham. In fact, Basso said, he often spends his days explaining the various Italian meats and cheeses to customers.

“I think it’s the variety that helps,” he said.

It is close to the strategy employed by Tanguay and Smith, who will sell only Maine-made gifts, from small craft items to paintings and other works of art. Tanguay has now found the right spot, after being at two other locations in Windham, including next to C.N. Brown for the holiday season. And she thinks they have the right products.

“The thing is to find your niche,” said Tanguay, who before a hiatus ran a similar store in the Maine Mall. “We have all Maine products from all Maine people.”