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Manager authorized to seek bids for safety, parking improvements near Portland Head Light

The town is moving forward with plans for safety and parking improvements at Fort Williams Park.

The Town Council on Jan. 14, 2019 gave Town Manager Matthew Sturgis the go-ahead to seek bids for a plan to pave the central parking lot and to add handrails, benches, pavement and other safety improvements to the walkway leading to Portland Head Light. Drainage improvements and a landscaping plan are included.

The plan, developed by Mitchell & Associates Landscape Architects and recommended by the Fort Williams Park Committee, calls for paving the gravel central parking lot and marking spaces for 98 passenger vehicles and up to 12 tour buses. The buses would park along the southern and western sides of the lot, away from passenger vehicles and more importantly, away from Captain Strout Circle in front of the lighthouse.

The plan implements one of the park committee's recommendations, adopted by the council in October, for better managing the increasing number of tour buses, vans and trolleys visiting the park. "One of the recommendations was to take the buses out of the circle ... to take that back up to the central lot and to try to improve the safety at the circle, and quite frankly, traffic flow," said Town Manager Matthew Sturgis.

Traffic will move one-way through lot, coming in from the south entry and exiting north, across from the Ocean Road intersection with Humphreys Road. Delineated parking spaces and a one-way flow will allow twice as many bus spaces than there are now, and a more than 10-percent increase in car spaces, all in virtually the same area, said Mitchell & Associates President Bob Metcalf. Handicap parking will also increase from two spaces to eight.

An 8-foot wide, paved walkway next to the bus drop-off is also planned, as well as handrails to facilitate visitors' walks from the buses to the lighthouse. A series of benches will also be installed to offer those with mobility challenges places to rest.

Councilors voted 5-1 to authorize Sturgis to seek bids, with Chris Straw opposed. Straw said he had several concerns, primarily with large tour buses driving through the same parking lot where children and parents are arriving for soccer games in the late summer and fall.

Another councilor, Valerie Deveraux, said she was concerned that 12 spots for buses may not be enough, but Fort Williams Park Committee member Jim Kerney said the committee is working with operators to limit the number of buses coming in to the park at a time. That, plus a new fee schedule and the increase in parking capacity, are measures being taken to manage bus traffic, he said, but at present there is no other space for buses to park. Sturgis added that there is room for overflow parking in the lot near the picnic shelter if needed.


The town is proposing to fund the project, estimated at $412,000-$425,000, with equal amounts from the Fort Williams Park and the Portland Head Light Gift Shop special funds. An even split was proposed because both the park and the lighthouse will benefit, Sturgis said, but one councilor, Chair Jamie Garvin, said that with revenues from the gift shop consistently exceeding forecasts, the gift-shop fund might be a better source for the lion's share. "Our ability to spend (gift-shop funds) is limited based on the parameters set up with the fund, but if this is something that falls within, from my perspective it's something that we should use the money for," Garvin said.

Plans are to award bids in February, with an early spring construction to be completed before Memorial Day, Metcalf said.