Light the lamps: Portland wraps Woodfords Corner work

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PORTLAND — For the past few months it wasn’t easy to get coffee at Little Woodfords.

But things are returning to normal at the 643 Forest Ave. coffee shop with the finishing touches being applied to a $5.65 million project to transform Woodfords Corner.

“There were days when coming in here was an act of defiance,” coffee shop co-owner Andrew Zarro said Nov. 1.

Little was left undone in the work extending in nearly every direction along Forest Avenue: sewer separations, new paving, added or eliminated travel lanes, improved signage and rebuilt railroad grade crossings.

“Aesthetically, the corner needed a facelift,” Tim Merrill, a co-owner of P.J. Merrill Seafood, said Oct. 31.

The project provides new sidewalks, improved access for pedestrians and bicyclists, better curbing for people with mobility issues, and interactive traffic signals regulating the flow at one of the state’s busiest intersections.

There’s art, too; local sculptor Aaron Stephan created street lamps for a new plaza outside the Oddfellows Hall. The lamps will be turned on in a public ceremony Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m.

The lighting cost $25,000, all from surplus Public Art Committee funds allocated in 2016. A city ordinance requires 0.5 percent of the annual capital improvement budget to be spent on public art. The cost included $20,000 for Stephan and $5,000 for installation by the Public Works Department.

At Little Woodfords, 643 Forest Ave., Zarro said the business had to close several times because customers could not get to the doors during the project that lasted more than a year, with a winter hiatus.

“Remember when there was a trench out front?” Victoria Parker asked while sipping her tea.

Parker is a frequent customer who said she feels safer because of the improvements and is happy one of her children can bicycle to Ocean Avenue Elementary School.

“It was very hectic before,” Parker said. “Now that it is done, hopefully better organization and lanes will make it safer.”

Merrill is part of a family business that has been at 681 Forest Ave. since 1946. Adding a second outbound lane took away on-street parking spaces from in front of the store, but Merrill said the sewer separation project should also alleviate flooding problems local businesses have endured.

“There were some very good things that happened,” he said, although he remains worried about the added outbound lane.

“You see how fast they go through it now, it is like a major thoroughfare,” Merrill said.

An inbound Forest Avenue lane was eliminated between the Forest-Deering-Woodford intersection, and Revere Street, the remaining inbound Forest Avenue lane, is now shared with bicycles.

On Oct. 31, Shane Heathers said he liked the arrangement after riding through the intersection on his bike.

“It seemed OK; you mix with the flow of traffic,” he said, adding he felt safer than he did using the separated bicycle lanes on Park Avenue opened by the city in September.

Heathers also likes the surface improvements to the rail crossing north of the Forest and Ocean avenues intersection, work that shut down the street for a weekend in September.

Zarro, Merrill, Parker and Friends of Woodfords Corner President Teresa Valliere each complimented contractor Shaw Bros. for their cooperation and accommodations, even though the work got noisy and dirty.

Parker said crews helped her children get across the intersections and kept an eye out for pedestrians.

Merrill said he knew they were working in tough circumstances.

“When it was chopped up, it was kind of dangerous,” he said. “They were very courteous, they did the best they could.”

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Shane Heathers rides south on Forest Avenue through Woodfords Corner on Oct. 31. He said he likes the new shared bicycle lanes and how they help traffic flow.

Little Woodfords co-owner Andrew Zarro said getting a cup of coffee “was an act of defiance” during some phases of construction, but he and customer Victoria Parker said the end result is a safer neighborhood with better access for everyone.

The city will host a 5:30 p.m. Nov. 15 “tree lighting” ceremony at Woodfords Corner to illuminate the sculptured street lamps created by local artist Aaron Stephan.

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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.