Are Kittery officials playing politics with the shipyard?

It appears that Kittery town officials are aware of traffic light malfunctions at the Wallingford Square intersection and appear not to be taking action to remedy the problem. Supposedly they attempted to have it fixed but it got worse.

This malfunction is causing extreme traffic delays during peak commuting hours, resulting in massive traffic back-ups at both Gate 1 and Gate 2 of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY). 

The residents of Kittery and the largest employer in the region both have a new problem with traffic and Kittery town leadership may be part of that problem. Daily PNSY commuter traffic has been a challenging issue for Kittery for as long as most residents can remember but with the 2022 economic impact exceeding $1.45 billion dollars, it is an issue that needs to be addressed effectively to ensure the livelihoods of countless citizens and businesses in the area.

After Kittery spent over $250,000 in taxpayer grant dollars on the Joint Land Use Study traffic study and failed to identify or implement any effective solutions to alleviate the shipyard traffic, one Kittery Town Council member Matthew Brock, suggested an ordinance that would require carpooling a minimum of four people on and off the island. By the way, that idea was floated at the height of COVID and social distancing protocols. That is the kind of results residents are getting from Kittery leaders regarding this and other issues we are facing as a town.

According to Kittery Sources, PNSY officials recently met with Kittery Town Manager, Kendra Amaral, seeking urgent resolution of this traffic crisis and offered portable traffic lights until the broken Wallingford square lights can be repaired. The malfunctioning lights are switching every 7 seconds during peak traffic hours as shift changes bring thousands of vehicles on and off the shipyard. The result of this is agonizing starts and stops, allowing only a few vehicles to move at each light and delaying both employees as well as Kittery residents in their travels through these key areas of town.

An email was sent to Amaral requesting additional information about the cause of the issue and her plan for a speedy resolution and it immediately was answered and is below. Thousands of federal employees and civilian contractors have been delayed for hours trying to get on and off the shipyard in recent weeks. These hundreds of Kittery residents as well as thousands of residents of neighboring communities and states. This Kittery traffic light debacle is affecting the quality of life for thousands of people. 

Another significant impact of this mess is environmental, with thousands of stagnant vehicles idling and burning fuel. This needless pollution and noise affects the air quality for Kittery residents and the overall environment that we all share. Failure to swiftly correct this issue makes Kittery culpable for the problem, as our leaders are doing a disservice to the Navy, thousands of employees and Kittery residents which many work on the yard. At candidate’s night last week, Kittery Town councilor and current shipyard employee Cameron Hamm highlighted his passion and commitment to alleviating climate change. Former Councilor Kenneth Lemont, is a former shipyard employee who faced the traffic nightmares first hand as well. What is Kittery doing to address this mess? Representing the citizens of Kittery is about getting involved and driving solutions to the critical issues we face as a community.

Kittery needs to collaborate with PNSY to resolve the challenges we face together. At one point the shipyard offered to fund a police officer to direct traffic at both gates during peak hours to manage the flow of traffic. That generous offer was rejected by Kittery’s leadership as well. It seems the shipyard offers many ideas that are dismissed.

When I am asked why I am running for re-election I tell people that I am committed to getting results for Kittery and solving problems. Failure to address and solve the traffic issues is a perfect example of the type of change that Kittery needs. Please think carefully about who you vote for on November 7th and be sure to plan on extra driving time to get to the polls if you live anywhere near the shipyard.

Response from the Kittery Town Manager

Dear Chuck,

We have been working with the PNS on the traffic issues; including yesterday.  We agreed to a plan to keep that intersection up running if the traffic signal finally crashes out for good before MDOT implements the replacement program next year.

In generally the Town has worked the PNS on the signal timing to assist them in clearing the yard.  We had adjusted the Gate 1 signal to 60 seconds at the PNS’ request in 2020.  The signal is one of the oldest in Kittery and in need of replacement.  We believe the timing programmed in 2020 slipped recently.  Our vendor was out there a few days ago to replace a dead bulb and that also threw the whole system off.  I have said in multiple forums that the Gate 1 intersection is one of the oldest in Kittery and we continue to be concerned that every time we try to make an adjustment the entire signal box will crash.  Yesterday the system went haywire and into flash mode unexpectedly.    We had our signal maintenance vendor out there trying to get it back to 60 seconds at the afternoon peak.  They are also working on getting the Walker/State back to a detection setting.   I understand what they did yesterday addressed the timing; we will see how long it lasts though.

The Town is working with the PNS to monitor and address the issue as much as possible.  I’ve copied Danna and Cdr Durika on the email if you wish to receive more information.

Sincerely,

Kendra

After the Town Manager’s very quick response, there are still questions. The Town Manager has been here since 2016 and traffic regarding the shipyard has been a problem for over a half a century. According to Amaral, I have said in multiple forums that the Gate 1 intersection is one of the oldest in Kittery and we continue to be concerned that every time we try to make an adjustment the entire signal box will crash.”

FACT: Kittery has nine signal lights and the Wallingford Square light is the oldest.

Why hasn’t Kittery made this a priority to have this traffic light replaced or upgraded having first hand knowledge that it was a failure waiting to happen?

According to Town Manager Amaral’s email, “We agreed to a plan to keep that intersection up running if the traffic signal finally crashes out for good before MDOT implements the replacement program next year”. Perhaps the JLUS traffic study should have addressed this and I wonder how many others in Kittery have known about this archaic traffic light potential failure.

Perhaps MDOT should know that over an estimated three thousand vehicles pass through this intersection in a day within the Foreside Business district. Further more, that this traffic light imminent failure can be prevented by replacing it immediately with a new traffic light system, adding new technology such as cameras and motion sensors. This replacement would be key to moving traffic through the Foreside Business district and help alleviate the flow of traffic.

Kittery officials need to be proactive with this and do what is right for the residents and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

PNSY Main Gate Wallingsford Square
Rte 236
Walker Street