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Maine DOT adds trail link to Interstate 295 project in Portland

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Maine DOT adds trail link to Interstate 295 project in Portland

PORTLAND — Persistence may have paid off for activists who have been lobbying for more than a year for a connection between Marginal Way and the Back Cove trail.

The state Department of Transportation has now agreed that when it begins improvements at Interstate 295 Exit 7 this spring, it will include space for a trail connection under the highway overpass.

With the completion of the Bayside Trail, which is under construction, the link between Back Cove and Marginal Way will effectively connect the city's two pedestrian trail loops around the peninsula and Back Cove.

Pedestrian advocates and local and state officials began meeting and corresponding with DOT last year, after the state unveiled plans for the revamped exit without Back Cove access.

The most recent plans include space for a trail, although the DOT has not agreed to build the trail or provide the necessary pedestrian safety features that would be needed to cross Marginal Way and the northbound I-295 off-ramp.

On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for inclusion and completion of the trail by the state. The original resolution only called for inclusion of space, but the council amended its resolve to show strong support for trail access.

Nan Cumming, executive director of Portland Trails, said I-295 has been an "insurmountable obstacle" when it comes to trail planning.

"This is practically a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said.

Markos Miller, a leader of the group studying how to improve Franklin Arterial – where Exit 7 dumps cars out in Portland – agreed with Cumming and added that the access would create an important link to the peninsula.

Currently, pedestrians and bicyclists can get on and off the peninsula by using the Washington Avenue connection to Back Cove or by taking Preble Street Extension.

Kathi Early, the city's engineering manager, said there are still safety studies that need to be conducted with regard to the trail. She said the width of the trail is also in question. Trail advocates want the trail to be 12 to 14 feet wide, but the state may leave as little as 8 feet.

Early also said the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, or PACTS, is considering an application for funding of the trail in late 2011. The city estimates it would cost about $230,000 to build the trail and include safety features like crosswalks, signs and a fence.

A decision on that funding is expected in the fall. If approved, the city would have to match 25 percent, or about $57,500.

The state estimates the Exit 7 improvements will cost $1.8 million and take about six months to complete. A request for bids is expected to be issued soon and construction could start this spring.

The improvement plan calls for widening the northbound and southbound ramps, adding a lane on the northbound exit ramp and a signal at the end of that ramp. The southbound exit will get an added lane.

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