Plan to hike Westbrook speed limit raises concern in Portland

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PORTLAND — The potential for increased speeds on a major street connecting the city and Westbrook has officials on both sides of the border asking state officials to slow down.

“I’m pleased (the state) is looking again,” Westbrook City Manager Jerre Bryant said Monday, after Maine Department of Transportation traffic engineer Steve Landry’s field review of a department decision to increase the speed limit on a half-mile stretch of Stroudwater Street to 45 mph from its current 35 mph.

Portland Public Services Director Mike Bobinsky and residents of the Stroudwater Village neighborhood said they’re concerned drivers speeding up to get through Westbrook won’t slow down after they pass over the Maine Turnpike and into Portland.

That is where Stroudwater Street becomes Westbrook Street, passing through a residential neighborhood with a speed limit of 35 mph, then 30 mph as it gets closer to outer Congress Street.

“Our concern is we have done a lot on Westbrook Street in terms of traffic calming,” Bobinsky said Monday.

Stroudwater Street resident Mikhu Paul said it is already difficult to keep drivers from speeding through his neighborhood.

“I expected there would be a commuter wave where people are hurrying a bit, but not as problematic as the commercial traffic using this as an arterial throughout the day,” Paul said Monday.

Paul has lived in the neighborhood for two years, walks her dog during the day, and is prone to taking pictures of traffic or calling businesses whose vehicles she said speed through the neighborhood.

Winter can make things worse, Paul said, because sidewalks often are not cleared and people must walk in the street.

“You have a construction truck going by at 40 mph and it is scary,” she said.

Bobinsky and Dan Koloski, the president of the Stroudwater Village Association, said there have been some improvements, including traffic islands, an electronic sign displaying vehicle speeds as drivers approach the 30 mph zone, and a flashing crosswalk sign at the Kingsmark Lane intersection.

“The resulting improvements from these efforts have measurably increased safety for all types of traffic and improved livability in the area – while having a negligible impact on rush-hour commute times,” Koloski said in an email Monday.

The DOT approved increasing the speed limit from just past the intersection with Laffin Drive to the Westbrook-Portland boundary in April 2013.

On Tuesday, DOT spokesman Ted Talbot said the new speed limits were never implemented due to a change in traffic engineers, and a decision was made to conduct the field review and obtain more local input.

The original decision came after Westbrook city councilors asked for a review of speed limits on Stroudwater and Cumberland streets, Bryant said.

The DOT sets speed limits and can review data to either increase, decrease or leave the limits unchanged. Bryant said Westbrook councilors were more concerned about excessive speeds in residential areas, including the stretch of Stroudwater Street that passes Westbrook High School.

The unintended consequence for Westbrook councilors came when DOT engineers concluded traffic and measured speed data showed the relatively rural stretch could sustain a higher speed limit.

Bobinsky and other Portland officials were not aware of the DOT study and decision.

“I am also concerned … about how the city of Portland was not informed that the study was underway and the results of the study early enough in the process to avoid having the speed changed,” Bobinsky said in a Dec. 8 email to Landry.

Bryant said he is not a traffic engineer, but he hopes Landry will look beyond traffic data to the unique situation of the stretch of road in question.

“It is probably more the intangibles,” he said. “What is the purpose of having this short stretch, and no matter which way you are headed, you are coming into developed areas or a middle school or a high school?”

On Dec. 8, Westbrook councilors tabled a motion to revise city ordinances to dovetail with the new speed limits. Bryant said the order will not move forward until Landry’s work is done.

Koloski and Paul said they also oppose any speed limit increase, while Koloski looks to more collaboration with city officials to slow traffic along Congress and Westbrook streets.

“A comprehensive set of additional improvements are being discussed, including Metro bus stop relocation, lane alterations, new islands, sidewalks, crosswalks and traffic light modifications at the corner of Congress and Westbrook streets,” Koloski said. “All of this work is an ongoing evolution, and speed limit increases are not part of that discussion.”

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

Sidebar Elements

Traffic moves along Stroudwater Street in Portland on Dec. 12, where residents and city officials believe an increased speed limit in Westbrook could lead to more vehicles speeding through the neighborhood. The Maine DOT is reviewing data before deciding to boost the speed limit.

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.