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Portland panel ponders 2-way traffic on State, High streets

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Portland panel ponders 2-way traffic on State, High streets

PORTLAND — From his frame shop at the corner of State and Pine streets, owner Tim Hussey gets a daily view of traffic passing through Longfellow Square.

"I see one rear-ender a week," Hussey said Aug. 1 as he considered the effects of returning State Street to two-way traffic.

"It's going to cause a big mess," he said "Traffic needs to get through."

The road to returning High and State streets to two-way traffic will be a long one, but a $145,000 study by TY Lin International is now underway, and the first meeting of the project advisory committee of neighborhood residents and business owners was held July 30 at City Hall.

“We are being asked to specifically see if a two-way street will work better than a one-way street,” group facilitator Carol Morris said at the outset of the two-hour meeting that reviewed a report from TY Lin traffic engineer Tom Errico. His report examined current conditions and possible changes in a corridor reaching from Deering Oaks Park to the approach to the Casco Bay Bridge.

Ultimately, the project hopes to achieve a balance between commercial and passenger vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrian needs and safety.

Within the corridor, based on data from the Maine Department of Transportation, Errico noted seven intersections and eight segments of streets considered "high-crash locations" because of accidents from 2011 to 2013.

“It doesn't mean it is definitely bad, it means you should look at it,” Errico said.

He outlined findings from a June 10 traffic study conducted from 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. showing traffic on average did not exceed the 25 mph speed limit on State Street, while going three to five mph above the same speed limit on High Street.

More studies will be made, Errico promised, including calculations on mid-day traffic and the amount of parking along both streets. Also to be considered is how to effectively accommodate truck, pedestrian and bicycle traffic on two-way streets.

State and High streets became one-way in 1972. The project advisory committee was formed by the City Council in late April to provide input and perspective to the TY Lin study. A study report is planned for the end of April 2015, and advisory committee members will have a say in its final form.

Members of the project advisory group are Steve Landry of the Maine Department of Transportation, Carl Eppich of the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, Westin Portland Harborview Hotel General Manager Bruce Wennerstrom, Kristen Levesque of the Portland Museum of Art, Lauren Wayne of the State Theater, Frank Turek of Friends of Congress Square Park, Anne Pringle of Friends of Deering Oaks, Emma Holder of Parkside Neighborhood Association, Ron Spinella of Bayside Neighborhood Association, Ian Jacob of the West End Neighborhood Association, Ann Thaxter of 100 State Street, Michael Connelly of Mercy Hospital, and David Robinson of Greater Portland Landmarks.

A 12-member Community Advisory committee was also created. It includes Chris O'Neil of the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce, Steve Hewins of the Portland Downtown District, and Dean Benjamin Shambaugh of Cathedral of St. Luke.

The study will also consider plans to alter lanes on Spring Street in the mid-Peninsula and possibly extend Somerset Street through West Bayside toward the intersection of Marginal Way and Forest Avenue. It is also hoped more drivers will use the Fore River Parkway to get around the Peninsula to the Casco Bay Bridge or western parts of the city.

Altering traffic on High and State streets on a trial basis was ruled out by Errico because of the cost of temporarily changing traffic signals and street configurations.

Two-way traffic could also reduce on-street parking if left turn lanes are added on the streets. The effect of left-turning traffic into private driveways is unknown, and Wennerstrom and Wayne said two-way traffic would pose problems on High Street just north of Congress Square.

About 150 people check in and out of his hotel daily, Wennerstrom said, many using the valet parking service on High Street. Wayne noted the State Theater hosts more than 100 shows annually, with trucks or vans needing access to an alley between the theater on High Street.

A public workshop will be scheduled this fall, and the project advisory committee is expected to meet again by Christmas.

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