PORTLAND — City Councilors got a preview Monday of the upcoming construction season and an update on sewer separation work.
Officials from the Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority presented their annual outlook on the road and bridge maintenance work to be done, with the future of Spring Street between High and Temple streets still very much at issue.
“We’ve run out of time and we have to pave it,” City Manager Jon Jennings said during the 90-minute workshop.
Repaving work, the second phase of work on Spring Street that began last summer, is expected to begin in the next six weeks, Jennings said. The work will also have an impact on the angled parking spaces created after the center median was removed.
“We have seen more people backing in, but we still see people pulling in,” Jennings said of the parking that requires drivers to back into spaces. Feedback was mixed when Jennings asked councilors for their thoughts on keeping the parking arrangement.
Jennings has opposed the practice of having drivers back in to spaces, in part because it is not fully adhered to, and also because city parking division staff have to step out into Spring Street to check if vehicles have the proper parking meter receipts.
Councilor Nick Mavodones said he would prefer head-in angled parking, as on Commercial Street, and is concerned the scope of work and lack of clear markings on Spring Street will cause traffic gridlock this summer. Councilors David Brenerman and Jill Duson agreed.
Councilors Belinda Ray, Spencer Thibodeau and Ed Suslovic said they preferred the new parking.
“I have done back-in parking five times and I love it,” Ray said.
Suslovic said the new requirements need more time.
“I think the Spring Street challenge was one of execution instead of bad planning,” he said. “Let’s give it a chance once we get real markings.”
The new work on Spring Street could also bring about the reduction of some of the “bump-outs” at intersections to make crossing safer for pedestrians. Jennings said trucks and buses are sometimes forced into oncoming traffic while making turns to and from Spring Street.
The alterations at intersections may come at city expense, since the initial work was also funded by the city.
“Our project was a paving project, your project was putting in bump outs,” MDOT Highway Program Manager Brad Foley said.
Other MDOT projects coming this year include repaving work on outer Washington Avenue, on Commercial Street from Franklin to within 1,900 feet of High Street, and the stretch of Danforth Street from York to High streets.
The city is also moving forward on compliance efforts to reduce the wastewater flowing into Casco Bay, city Water Resources Manager Nancy Gallinaro said.
The third phase or tier of work, approved in 2013, will entail the city separating wastewater and stormwater flow to alleviate overflows at the East End Beach water treatment plant. The work was estimated to cost about $170 million in the next 15 years.
Some of the work will be funded through the new monthly stormwater fee of $6 per 1,200 square feet of impervious area assessed property owners throughout the city. Properties smaller than 400 square feet and land on all Casco Bay islands except Peaks Island are exempt; all other property owners are billed on a monthly or quarterly basis. Payments are also now accepted online through the city website.
“I believe everybody did an excellent job of setting it up and getting it going,” Gallinaro said, but added there needs to be more outreach to residential property owners.
The city was ordered to end the flow of wastewater into Casco Bay more than 20 years ago by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Gallinaro said all permits for sewer separation projects are in order through 2018, and the city will look to close off 33 of 39 combined sewer overflows and 85 percent of discharged wastewater.
“As those permits come up, there will be more demands put on the city,” Gallinaro warned.
A proposed project to build a conduit to hold water near Marginal Way is also now on hold, Gallinaro and Jennings said, because the anticipated $21 million cost is now $37 million.
Gallinaro said the conduit may also be less effective at stopping the wastewater flow than continued work on sewer separation projects.
City counciilors on Monday had split opinions on whether back-in parking should be continued on Spring Street.