State ready to begin widening Portland's Exit 7; activists want trail access
PORTLAND — Widening of the northbound and southbound off ramps at Exit 7 of Interstate 295 should begin later this year, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.
Work on the ramps at Franklin Arterial is intended to relieve traffic jams at the heavily used exit, MDOT project manager Ernie Martin said.
"The whole project is safety oriented," Martin said.
Pedestrian advocates and a group studying possible future changes for Franklin Arterial, meanwhile, want the state to include a walkway connecting to the Back Cove Trail.
The Exit 7 project was earmarked for funding in the 2004-2009 federal Safety and Transportation program. Martin said his department has been dealing with projects funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but expects to schedule a public meeting to discuss the Exit 7 project in July.
"Hopefully we'll be getting to a public hearing after the stimulus dust settles," Martin said. "After that, we'll push (the Exit 7 project)."
The $1.8 million project calls for a lane to be added to the northbound exit ramp, and a signal at the end of the ramp to allow people getting off the highway to get on Franklin instead of waiting to merge with traffic coming off I-295 southbound.
The southbound exit will also get an added lane off the highway and around the curved ramp.
State Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said last week that members of Portland Trails, the Franklin Street Arterial Committee and Franklin Reclamation Authority were pushing for the project to include a pedestrian crossing from Marginal Way, across the end of the northbound ramp, and over to Back Cove. He said funds earmarked for the ramp project cannot be used for the pedestrian access trail, but advocates may try to pay for it through city or other funds.
City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who represents Bayside on the council and is also chairman of the Transportation Committee, agreed with Alfond. He said the state needs to make allowances at Exit 7 when it comes to pedestrian access.
"It's undermining our planning process if they don't," Donoghue said. "Both planning efforts have set their sites on pedestrian permeability from Franklin Arterial to the Back Cove trail."
The councilor said he believes the DOT is not against a pedestrian crossing at the exit, but that the state just doesn't want to pay for it.
"The traffic signal going in there creates the perfect opportunity for safe pedestrian crossing to Back Cove," Donoghue said. "We just need a walk light to go with it."
Donoghue added that the city will build a sidewalk on Marginal Way, from the Miss Portland Diner to Franklin Arterial. He said since the student housing opened on Marginal Way last fall, there has been an increase in foot traffic along that stretch of the street because students are parking in the commuter lot on the east end of Marginal Way.
Markos Miller, who serves on the study committee and was a founder of the Franklin Reclamation Authority, sent a letter to the DOT on behalf of the authority. The letter outlined the importance to pedestrian access in the Bayside neighborhood and also the importance of a connection from Back Cove to Bayside.
Martin said the DOT would look at pedestrian and bicycle access as part of its plans for the stretch of Franklin Street that runs from Marginal Way to Sommerset Street. That project is separate from the Exit 7 expansion.
"We're waiting for the city study to get buttoned up," Martin said, referring to the work of the Franklin Street Arterial Committee. At that point, he said the state will begin working on plans for the arterial.
"It's going to be a collaborative effort," he said.
Following the public meeting in July, Martin said the state will send the project out to bid. Construction is expected to take about three months.