Newcastle Administrator Lynn Maloney opened the floor to Sheepscot Village residents calling for the lifting of the weight restriction on Wiscasset’s Federal Street at the Wiscasset Selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, May 5. (Abigail Adams photo)
By Abigail W. Adams
The 6,000-pound weight restriction on 1.6 miles of Federal Street (Route 218) in Wiscasset was the topic of intense debate at the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday, May 5.
Sheepscot village residents, a Newcastle selectman, Newcastle Town Administrator Lynn Maloney, Alna Selectman Doug Baston, Wiscasset residents, and Maine Department of Transportation representative Scott Rollins turned out to weigh in on the issue.
No official action was taken by the Wiscasset selectmen, many of whom expressed continued support for the weight restriction, while acknowledging the weight limit was under the official jurisdiction of the DOT.
The 1.6 miles on Federal Street from Route 1 to West Alna Road in Wiscasset has a weight limit of 6,000 pounds, causing heavy truck traffic, primarily from Crooker Construction traveling from Whitefield to Route 1, to use Sheepscot Road as a detour.
Newcastle residents in the Sheepscot village petitioned the Newcastle selectmen to take action to lift the weight restriction earlier in the month. Armed with documents dating back to the 1980s, resident Angelo Pappagallo questioned Wiscasset selectmen about the weight restriction
causing heavy truck traffic in his neighborhood.
“I don’t understand how a town can supersede the authority of the DOT,” Pappagallo said. Pappagallo said he intended to pursue the matter with the attorney general’s office if the restriction was not lifted.
Maloney noted the views expressed by residents did not represent Newcastle selectmen and thanked Wiscasset selectmen for hearing their concerns. “We want to offer a platform for citizens that are upset about this,” Maloney said.
U.S. presidential candidate and Newcastle resident Morrison Bonpasse also thanked Wiscasset selectmen and said he hoped further discussion and negotiations would occur between the two towns.
The weight restriction on Federal Street was called for in a Wiscasset ordinance that dates back over 40 years, Selectman Ben Rines said. It had been challenged in court before and upheld, Rines said. The Maine DOT officially imposed the weight restriction in 2002.
Federal Street residents in Wiscasset and Baston spoke in favor of the continuation of the weight limit. According to a rough estimate from Baston, there are approximately 120 single-family houses in Alna and Wiscasset that would be affected by lifting the weight restriction as opposed to approximately 40 single-family houses in Sheepscot. Alna selectmen previously voted unanimously to have the weight restriction upheld and a revote by Alna’s current selectmen would most likely have the same result, Baston said.
Rollins, from Maine DOT, confirmed the weight restriction was an official decision made by the department’s commissioner in 2002. The DOT policy regarding weight limits on state highways has changed since then, Rollins said, and the department would like to see the weight restriction lifted.
According to Rollins, Maine DOT’s current policy is to not place weight restrictions on state roads unless there is an engineering concern regarding a bridge. The 6,000-pound weight limit is extremely low, Rollins said, and is most likely violated by school buses, pickup trucks, and midsize SUVs.
The DOT has jurisdiction over weight restrictions, which would trump a local ordinance, Rollins said. “We don’t want to shove it down your throats, though,” Rollins said. “We don’t want to tell selectmen what they should do.”
Rollins reaffirmed Maine DOT’s position that the restriction should be lifted.
Selectmen agreed to engage in further discussion with neighboring communities about the weight restriction. Chair Pam Dunning suggested exploring possible alternative routes for truck traffic as well. “I don’t understand the love affair with our little historic street,” Dunning said. “I don’t understand why Route 27 isn’t being used.”