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As college-bound traffic increases, so does concern in South Portland

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As college-bound traffic increases, so does concern in South Portland

SOUTH PORTLAND — Growing enrollment has made Southern Maine Community College a popular education choice over the last decade, but school success is adding to traffic woes on nearby Broadway.

A community forum at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at the SMCC Culinary Arts Building at 80 Fort Road will address traffic questions. City Director of Planning Tex Haeuser and SMCC President Dr. Ronald Cantor will attend.

Haeuser said the forum will not bring ready solutions, but is a chance to discuss current and future strategies to relieve Broadway congestion.

"There is no magic solution we have come across we are going to announce," Haeuser said.

Cantor, who took over as president of the college about a year ago, said he is aware school access is limited.

"I am struck by the fact our campus is located in such a beautiful setting. But the peninsula makes it narrow access for traffic," Cantor said.

According to college spokesman Matt Wickenheiser, college enrollment has increased from about 3,500 students in 2003 to about 7,500 last year. About 75 percent of students come from Cumberland and York counties, and about 425 students live on campus.

With about 10 satellite campuses and available online courses, Cantor said not all the students attend the South Portland campus, but the increase in enrollment has had its effects.

Haueser said no current traffic data for Broadway is available, and the school helped fund improvements to the intersection of Broadway and Cottage Road when a second campus dorm was added a few years ago.

With delays getting out of the adjoining Ferry Village and Willard Square neighborhoods, Haeuser said he has been asked if the existing blinking light at Sawyer Street and Broadway could be converted to a full signal.

Traffic lights are installed by the Maine Department of Transportation based on state and federal guidelines, and the intersection does not qualify because of a lack of traffic on Sawyer Street, Haeuser said.

Cantor said the college would like to reduce vehicle traffic to the campus, because parking spaces are at a premium.

Students can now ride to school free on city and METRO buses, a program paid for through student activity fees, Wickenheiser said.

In its first year, the program accounted for 225 daily and 91,000 annual campus bus trips. Cantor said about 220 fewer vehicles used school lots each day in that period.

Those reductions are part of a wider strategy encouraging car pooling and alternative transportation to get to school. Designating parking spots for high-occupancy vehicles and rescheduling classes outside peak traffic hours are other methods the school is trying.

Cantor said enrollment at SMCC's Brunswick campus is expected to increase to at least 2,000 students in the next few years, which could also reduce South Portland campus-bound traffic.

But the school's curriculum includes job training programs popular in a distressed economy, and Wickenheiser said at least 5,600 students take at least one class a semester.

With so many part-time students working around job and family schedules, Cantor said the school can try alternative class scheduling, but scheduling is still dictated by student demand.

Cantor said he hopes classes beginning before 8 a.m. will alleviate congestion at the morning peak, and evening and weekend classes could reduce traffic flow during the afternoon peak between 2:30 and 3:30.

At the forum next week, Cantor said he will emphasize a bigger issue beyond traffic.

"The college is an integral part of the community. We have a good situation. We want to be good neighbors, and our neighbors are good to us," he said.

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