Portland officials trying to make trail connections

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PORTLAND — As the crow flies, linking the Deering Oaks Park area to the Portland Transportation Center at Thompson’s Point is not difficult.

But birds don’t walk or ride bicycles, and the city is now looking for a better way to help people get safely and easily from the confluence of Forest Avenue, Marginal Way and Kennebec Street to the Fore River Parkway.

“We are looking for consensus,” city Transportation Program Manager Bruce Hyman said at the outset of a Nov. 30 Portland Expo meeting, where alternative designs were first presented to the public as part of a $235,000 study made in collaboration with the Maine Department of Transportation.

It was the first public meeting held by the design team led by Ransom Consulting & Engineering, with landscape designers Mitchell & Associates, transportation engineers Dubois & King, surveyors Titcomb & Associates, and outreach by Portland Trails.

It is a route with so many possibilities that the design team split it into three sections for discussion, and one that will begin where the extension of the Bayside Trail ends at Kennebec Street and Forest Avenue.

“We also know it is not a particularly pleasant environment for pedestrians and bicyclists today,” Ransom engineer Tom Nosal said. “We know it has the potential to be a barrier, we look to incorporate features that will make it more inviting.”

The final Bayside Trail route could also lead to shifting Kennebec Street from its current intersection to one a bit south, Hyman said, where enhanced crosswalks and narrowed lanes could help slow traffic. It would also allow the new trail through Deering Oaks to begin at one of the park’s historic entrances.

Once in the park, the study team has looked at a shared use path on existing roads.

“What would end up happening is a reallocation of how the road is used,” Sashie Misner of Mitchell & Associates said.

An alternative route could use the abandoned rail line behind the park’s athletic fields that is bordered by Interstate 295. Hyman said the rail line is now owned by the Maine Department of Transportation. The route could extend past Fitzpatrick Stadium and Hadlock Field toward the unused trestle over the intersection of Park Avenue and St. John Street, or follow a path back to Park Avenue along Deering Avenue.

Misner noted the rail line route also poses challenges because the Deering Avenue overpass would need lighting as the trail passed below.

Once the audience of about 20 split into smaller groups, they showed some preference for keeping the path in the park, but routing a shared use trail along Park Avenue does pose challenges because of traffic. During baseball season, some lanes may also be blocked in front of Hadlock Field.

The third section of a trail from beyond St. John Street and Park Avenue could take the most direct route out past I-295 to link with the Fore River Parkway. However, deciding which side of the street to place the trail has to be considered due to the truck traffic at the HP Hood processing and distribution plant, which extends to the intersection of Park Avenue and St. James Street.

To alleviate some traffic worries, the study group has also suggested routing the trail along Marston and Frederic streets to the Fore River Trail. The bypass route would require crossing Congress Street where it is one-way coming into the city.

The design team hopes to have the route set by summer, 2017, but no construction funding or cost estimates are in place.

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

A $235,000 study has been commissioned to look for ways to link Deering Oaks Park and the Portland Transportation Center via a shared use trail. The route has not been decided.

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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.