Gridlock, garbage, danger: Study aims to tame Portland’s corridor of horrors

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PORTLAND — Failure and promise were on display at Morrill’s Corner on April 27 as rush-hour traffic passed in fits and bursts.

“When people ask why I don’t walk to work, I tell them ‘Morrill’s Corner,'” Joel Pelletier said, though he lives no more than a half mile from his job at the University of New England’s Stevens Avenue campus.

Pelletier was on a site walk, part of the initial Portland-South Portland Smart Corridor meetings to study how traveling 7 miles from Bug Light in South Portland through the northern reaches of Portland can be improved for every mode of transportation.

The walk, followed by a 90-minute meeting on the University of New England campus, was the third in a series last month to open the $200,000 study commissioned by the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, known as PACTS.

The tour guide was city Transportation Program Manager Bruce Hyman, who spoke of past, present and future zoning, along with traffic control work in the area of Forest, Stevens and Allen avenues.

“We are taking a holistic look at what you would like to see,” he told approximately a dozen people, many of whom are UNE students or staff frustrated by the gridlock, garbage, noise and obstacles to safe passage in the area.

“It’s just simply not safe to bike or walk,” especially on Forest Avenue, UNE School of Dental Medicine student Caroline Moore said.

In prior meetings last month, the public was asked their thoughts and impressions about getting from Bug Light and Southern Maine Community College to Knightville in South Portland, and navigating Woodfords Corner, where Forest and Deering avenues and Woodfords Street converge.

In July, the Maine Department of Transportation is expected to begin rebuilding the Woodfords Corner intersection to include a second outbound lane on Forest Avenue, enhanced pedestrian crossing areas, and improved lanes for bicyclists.

As Hyman noted, the last big plans for Morrill’s Corner came more than a decade ago, when a supermarket and single-family homes were planned for land behind Bruno’s Restaurant & Tavern on Allen Avenue.

Approaching Morrill’s Corner from the south is also complicated by the confluence of Read, Adelaide and Arbor streets and a cluster of businesses at Stevens Avenue. At 5:30 p.m., traffic backed up past those intersections; the dedicated left-turn lane into McDonald’s came in handy for a northbound police cruiser trying to get through stopped traffic.

UNE student Rebekah Reed said she walks to school from her home near Woodfords Corner, but prefers the side streets.

“It is just so dirty, it is just unattractive,” she said of Forest Avenue.

Ned Codd, the planning and environmental lead with Boston-based WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff, agreed, adding the Morrill’s Corner intersections receive failing grades at peak hours because of limited capacity, timing of traffic signals, long delays for left turns, and extended distances between pedestrian crossings.

To the south, the city eliminated some parking along Forest Avenue and created dedicated left-turn lanes, but paint marking the changes faded less than a year later.

Codd noted the area zoning could be amended to allow higher residential density, while Pelletier and others welcomed the idea of businesses better accessed by customers on foot or bicycle.

A prevalence of take-out restaurants contributed to litter problems, Pelletier said, while Reed said simple steps would produce big changes.

“Just having consistency with sidewalks, trash cans and nice bus stops would make it look nicer overall,” she said.

Public comment on traversing all 7 miles under study is still being accepted at the study website. Codd said the consultants would like to have findings ready by the fall, with suggestions on planning ready by the end of the year.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

A police cruiser navigates Morrill’s Corner in Portland during the evening rush hour April 27. The officer got through the traffic light using a left-turn lane reserved for McDonald’s customers.

Portland Transportation Program Manager Bruce Hyman talks traffic and zoning April 27 during a site walk on Allen Avenue.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.