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Portland road construction challenges drivers, residents

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Portland road construction challenges drivers, residents

PORTLAND — If you've driven in the vicinity of Ocean Avenue recently, there's a good chance you were stopped by a man in a construction hat, holding a stop sign.

City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, whose District 4 is taking the brunt of the summer construction projects, said she's been getting an earful from constituents about traffic delays and messy roads. A recent drive around the district found one-lane traffic on the Veranda Street Bridge, Ocean Avenue and Baxter Boulevard. And Clifton and Read streets are open only to local traffic and the roads are nothing but dirt.

Read Street has been closed for a few months while crews separate sewer overflow pipes. The closure of the street, which is a major thoroughfare from Forest Avenue and Canco Road to Ocean Avenue, has forced traffic to normally quiet roads nearby. Kathi Early, the city's engineering manager, said Read Street is expected to take until 2010 to finish. And sewer reconstruction is scheduled to begin on Gleckler, Canco and Wellington roads this year, too.

Leeman was scheduled to host a neighborhood meeting Tuesday night to discuss whether bike lanes should be added on Ocean Avenue. That street, from Forest Avenue to Washington Avenue, is scheduled for repaving later this year, although gas company crews will begin what is expected to be two months of gas line work next week.

"The bike lane issue really became big," Leeman said. Stemming from a recommendation from the Transportation Committee, bike lanes are being considered for Ocean Avenue, Washington Avenue and Forest Avenue. While the Ocean Avenue decision is most pressing because of construction planned there, portions of Forest are scheduled for reconstruction and repaving, too.

"There's a parking issue. Three hundred spots would be eliminated," Leeman said. "I've got businesses on Forest Avenue that rely on on-street parking."

While the bike lane issue was up for debate Tuesday, Leeman has also been dealing with Read Street residents who want traffic-calming measures installed on that street when it is rebuilt. The neighborhood has submitted two petitions for consideration in the last year.

Neighbors are demanding a meeting be scheduled as soon as possible to discuss the road reconstruction and asked that it be added to the Tuesday agenda. Leeman, meanwhile, said this week that the city has a year to plan reconstruction of that road because it has to sit through a winter before it can be repaved.

"We're having a neighborhood meeting July 14 to discuss Read Street, and I'm sure we'll have lots more," she said. "There is plenty of time."

One Read Street resident, Chris Saladino, said he is frustrated with the city and with Leeman. He said the neighborhood has submitted two traffic-calming petitions, one in 2008 and the last one containing the signatures of 48 Read Street residents last month. Saladino said the neighborhood can't get straight answers from the city about how the street is going to be rebuilt. 

"It's ridiculous," Saladino said.

The neighborhood sent the city four possible dates for a June meeting, he said. They believe July is too late to begin discussing reconstruction of the street. Neighbors planned to "crash" the bicycle lane meeting Tuesday night to try and force discussion of Read Street.

"What we want to know is, how is the street going to be reconstructed and what is going to happen about traffic calming," Saladino said. "We can't get a straight answer."

"If we pave this thing the way it is, it's going to be a speedway," he said, adding that the street should be narrowed to slow traffic.

The state plans to repave Forest Avenue in a few different places this year, including the stretch from Baxter Boulevard Extension to Woodford's Corner, Early said.

"It's going to be a bit disruptive," she said. 

In other parts of town, Forest Avenue from Avalon Street to Riverside is scheduled for repaving, which is being funded through federal stimulus money, and crews have already begun repaving Brighton Avenue. 

City Spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Cumberland Avenue from Franklin Arterial to Elm Street is scheduled for work, as is Westbrook Street from Congress Street to the Westbrook town line.

"There's a lot of it going on," Clegg said. "It's a good thing, but it is a lot."

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net