Portland officials: Outer Congress St. changes to stay

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PORTLAND — Recent changes to traffic flow on outer Congress Street will soon become permanent, despite some public criticism and disagreement, city officials said.

The stretch of Congress Street between Stevens Avenue and Johnson Road was revamped earlier in the summer, when the Maine Department of Transportation allowed the city to piggyback onto an already-planned repaving project a series of lane reductions and other changes they hoped would make the street slower and more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.

The first phase of the project was finished in early July. Since then, the DOT and the city have collected public feedback via an online survey and a public meeting.

Comments from commuters received through the survey were at odds with those from residents at the public meeting, city officials said in a press release last week. More than 70 percent of all survey responders, and more than 60 percent of Portland residents who took it, said that the road was better in its previous state as a four-lane thoroughfare.

Some cyclists also criticized the new design, saying that the narrower lanes appeared to give bike riders more room, but frequently caused vehicles to drift out of their lanes.

Residents of the neighborhood, however, supported the changes and spoke in favor of them at the city’s public meeting on July 17, saying that they improved quality of life in the area and made the road safer.

A traffic analysis showed that commuting times were not impacted during the morning rush hour, and were slowed by only a minute during the afternoon rush, the city said. Some back-ups were observed around busy intersections, but overall travel speeds remained virtually the same.

The city ultimately decided to stick with the new lane markings because they did not appear to drastically impact traffic, but offered an “opportunity to balance the quality of life for that neighborhood,” City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said. 

The permanent lanes will be painted once the final surface, being laid this week, is finished. The work should be done in two weeks, weather permitting, Clegg said.

Some changes will be made from the initial experimental phase, however, including adjustments to merge zones near Westbrook and Westland streets; additional signs; new pavement markings near Waldo Street that will give bikers equally wide shoulders on both sides of the street; and a smooth surface fully to the curb, eliminating a lip between the old and new road surfaces that some cyclists said was dangerous. 

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected], Follow him on Twitter: ACullenFore.