"Waynesboro is unique because it has the big square and a wide Main Street. I think we should really look long and hard before we change it," said Walter Minnick of Quincy, a truck driver who said he appreciates the room to maneuver in the square.
People at the meeting spoke on a wide range of topics concerning the changes to the square, including pedestrian crosswalks, loss of parking spaces, potential loitering downtown and historical preservation.
But the main issue was the square's outdated traffic lights, which borough and state transportation officials said do not meet standards.
The traffic signals are difficult to repair and parts are hard to find because the equipment is "grossly out of date," said Jim Valentine, the borough's director of engineering services.
Plans call for the installation of mast arm traffic lights that would hang over the middle of the square. The wiring would be underground.
But several members of the audience came up with alternatives to the state's plan, suggesting that bags be placed over the existing signals, that they be removed, or that the green signal be eliminated.
"The problem lies within the three traffic lights," said Donald Besecker of Waynesboro. "Strangers come in and they don't know what to do."
Drivers unfamiliar with Waynesboro's square often look at the traffic signal on the far side of the square instead of the one at the entrance of the intersection.
Still, with an average of 20,700 vehicles traveling through the square every day, an average of only six accidents - none serious - occur there each year, said Valentine, referring to borough police records.
"I don't see what the problem is. Update the traffic signals but leave the square as it is," said Waynesboro attorney Thomas Painter, whose office has been on the square since 1954.
But Doug Maneval, the transportation department's signal engineer, said he doesn't think they can meet the requirements by keeping the square the way it is.
"PennDOT is concerned with safety. We're looking for a safe, orderly, efficient flow of traffic," Maneval said.
Installing the new traffic signals would mean widening the sidewalks to make four quadrants and eliminating the 18 pull-in parking spaces. The plan would allow for about seven parallel parking spaces along the square.
"We're looking at the whole Route 16 corridor," said Lester Nace, project development engineer with the transportation department. "You want traffic to flow through that corridor as safely and as smoothly as possible."
Changes to the square have been proposed as a result of a study conducted by the state as part of SAMI, or Safety and Mobilization Initiative Grant, a federally funded seven-intersection upgrade planned along Pa. 16 from North Grant Street to Welty Road.
The seven traffic lights along the Pa. 16 corridor would be coordinated by a computer, depending on traffic flow.
Those in favor of the changes told the crowd that Waynesboro should take advantage of the available funds.
PennDOT expects to open bids on the project in late 1998 with work starting in early 1999. But Nace told the audience that plans are still in the preliminary stages.
"This project is not etched in stone," Nace said.
Council members said they have questions of their own about the project and plan to revisit the issue with transportation officials in the coming months.