To the editor:
Although life can change so many ways in so little time, there are a few constants that all of us can count on: water is wet, the sky is blue, grass is green, and summertime traffic in Wiscasset is backed up for miles in both directions. It feels as though Red’s Eats should adopt a temporary slogan between June and September that reads, “Red’s Eats; the line starts in your vehicle 2 miles back.” In my short, 20-year lifetime, I cannot recall a summer that didn’t entail sitting in one of many cars crawling along Route 1, the starts and stops amounting to what can only be described as vehicular Chinese water torture.
The only thing more absurd than our traffic problem is what happens whenever the chance to address the issue arises. It feels as though the town can never get out of its own way in time to make a decision, leaving us all wondering what could have been as we inch along over the fading, sunbaked pavement. The most recent attempt to address the problem, however, has given me more hope than any of the endeavors before it. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Surrounding towns all across Lincoln County largely want this solution to go forward. Many Wiscasset residents want this solution to go forward. An older and very vocal minority area makes up the opposition to this plan, and if you believe a civilized debate is taking place between the Maine Department of Transportation and the vocal members of the town to iron out the finer points of a plan and put it in place, you would be wrong.
Reasonable concerns, such as placement of parking for the handicapped, serve as only a garnish on the heaping plate of straw-man arguments and resistance to change the opposition is serving up to the folks heading the DOT project. For proof, look no further than the flyer placed in your mailbox before the special referendum last June by those opposed to the plan, and any informational meetings the DOT holds on the matter that allow for public comment.
I have a message for the sticks-in-the-mud fighting this plan tooth and nail: Wiscasset is dying, and you are killing it. Growing up and rising through the Wiscasset school system, I could count on one hand the number of people in my class that intended to make a life here after graduation, and based on the total absence of younger people at the May informational meeting put on by the Maine DOT, this appears to have been a trend for a while.
The overwhelming majority of my classmates had no intention on spending any more time here once they completed high school, and can you blame them? What does Wiscasset have for them besides antiques, lobster, and traffic jams? And for that matter, what in downtown Wiscasset has the potential to grab the attention of a passing motorist and get them to say, “Wow, that place looks like fun!” as they turn off Route 1 and pull into a parking spot?
For starters, they are more likely to stop if they aren’t sitting in a traffic backup. I work at Wiscasset Village Antiques, and when traffic backs up beyond the entrances to our parking lot (nearly 3 miles from the Wiscasset bridge), business goes dead. No one wants to get out of line. I see it every summer. Combine that with everyone who takes the classic back-road detours and it isn’t hard to see why traffic backups are bad for business, and bad for the town … right?
The “prettiest village in Maine” is stuck in the past, with a stale downtown the central hub of a traffic nightmare that haunts the area three to four months out of the year, a nightmare that the town is infamous for throughout the state. Wiscasset needs to open itself up to change and let the future in, instead of watching it creep by in a slow-motion parade of vehicles or waving goodbye to it after graduation as it departs for college, never to be seen again except on holidays. Instead of being stuck in the past, we must cater to the future. If we turn our backs on the future, then when the present becomes the past, we will have nothing left.
Ushering in positive change and making Wiscasset an attractive place to settle down again begins with allowing the Maine DOT to move forward unobstructed with its plan to reduce traffic. I plead with those in the vocal opposition to take a step back, re-evaluate their position and their concerns, think about someone other than themselves, and work with the Maine DOT to ensure an attractive and effective plan is implemented. I also plead with those in favor of the plan to not be silent, support the plan whenever you have the chance, and see it through until it is done. Your town depends on it.