Portland seeks funds to overhaul intersection near USM

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PORTLAND — The outlook is ambitious, but the competition will be fierce to get outside money for city street, intersection and pedestrian pathway projects.

Earlier this month, city officials submitted eight applications for funding beginning in 2016 from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System. The proposed reconstruction of a troublesome intersection near the University of Southern Maine heads the list at $1.78 million.

In all, the city is seeking $9.8 million in PACTS funding, while the agency has about $6 million in federal transportation funds to distribute to 14 towns and cities extending south to Biddeford, north to Freeport and west to Gorham, according to a news release from PACTS Executive Director John Duncan.

PACTS members submitted $28 million in funding requests for intersection and road rebuilding projects and proposals to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Road rebuilding funds are particularly pinched: PACTS expects to have $2.05 million available for projects from 2016 through 2018, and the city is seeking more than $6 million. One proposal is to improve Washington Avenue from Congress Street to the Eastern Promenade; another would improve Portland Street between Preble and Brattle streets.

Funding that does become available will also require increased local spending, Duncan said, because the agency policy committee has increased the required local share from 15 percent to 25 percent of the total cost. Specific funding decisions are expected in July after PACTS members and staff score the applications, he said.

Plans to reduce congestion and improve safety hazards in the area near USM call for constructing roundabouts at Deering Avenue and Bedford Street, and at the intersection of Brighton and Deering avenues and Falmouth Street. The one-block stretch of Brighton Avenue from Bedford to Falmouth street would be removed.

The roundabouts would be combined with improved pedestrian crossings and islands intended to make “the intersections safe for the blind and visually impaired,” according to the city application.

The roundabouts will also benefit bicyclists, because of reduced vehicle speeds and better lane sharing.

The area has long been a source of frustration for drivers and pedestrians, and the city application to PACTS notes there have been 20 accidents at the intersection in the last three years, with 35 percent of the accidents resulting in injuries.

The accident rate is considered 17 percent higher than typical for the traffic volume and was labeled a high-accident location by the Maine Department of Transportation.

Traffic studies submitted with the application show nearly 400 vehicles per hour  use the intersection and surrounding streets during peak morning and evening time periods.

The expense breakdown includes $100,000 for right-of-way costs, $153,000 for engineering costs, and construction costs of $1.53 million. The city share would be at least $445,000.

The city is also seeking more than $250,000 to install traffic lights on Commercial Street at High Street, a year after the planned repaving of the intersection by the DOT.

In December, city engineer Kathi Earley said in a memo the new signals would be timed to work with existing signals at the intersection of High and York streets, while also making the High and Commercial intersection safer for pedestrians.

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

Sidebar Elements

Portland is seeking almost $1.8 million in regional transporation funding to replace the intersection of Deering and Brighton avenues and Falmouth Street with roundabouts.

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.