PORTLAND — West Commercial Street and Tukey’s Bridge are not physically connected.
They are connected in concept, though, as a study group seeks public opinion on how both of them can better serve pedestrians and bicyclists.
The West Commercial Multi-Modal Corridor & Martin’s Point Shared Use Path Studies are separate topically and in funding resources, but have been combined in presentation to the public and the request for input and opinions.
“These are two gaps, important gaps, and different in their very important challenges,” study coordinator Carol Morris said last month.
Morris invited the public to look at potential plans and comment on the pros and cons at portlandstudies.org.
At a combined cost of $75,000, with $15,000 from the city and the rest funded by the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, the studies may shape the future of vehicle access on rapidly developing West Commercial Street and how to create safer passage from Tukey’s Bridge to the Martin’s Point Bridge.
The study group intends to reconvene for a public workshop in September after hosting a City Hall meeting last month.
Although similar in the goal of creating fuller and safer access, the studies are also a contrast: one seeks to connect existing trails, while the other seeks ways to fit trails and bike lanes along a stretch of changing landscape.
“Martin’s Point is a classic gap in the system to get the bridge trail. There is not a good alternative from the Back Cove network,” city Waterfront Coordinator Bill Needelman said last month.
The trail network that provides access to Back Cove and the city waterfront is popular with walkers, runners, bicyclists and skateboarders, but compressed as it crosses Tukey’s Bridge next to Interstate 295.
It is not yet connected to the new Martin’s Point Bridge, which connects Portland and Falmouth, so the study is considering ways to use Veranda Street and how the bicycle lanes could be configured.
The study also examines whether I-295 could be used to extend the trail by narrowing lanes or even adding a separate water crossing as an extension of Tukey’s Bridge.
Needelman noted the existing bridge is about 45 years old and could be considered for replacement in the next 20 to 25 years, so better accommodations could be designed into any replacement work.
At present, the focus is more direct.
“We need connectivity and mobility that works with existing infrastructure and is safe and affordable,” he said.
On West Commercial Street, the view from the Casco Bay Bridge shows activity increasing below as container business grows, the state expands the shipping terminal and connects rail lines, and Phineas Sprague Jr. builds his new boat yard.
At street level, however, Needelman said West Commercial is underused by bicyclists and pedestrians and has a sidewalk that extends only from the Valley Street intersection to just beyond Cassidy Point.
The study goal is to develop access in the “complete street” mode, with dedicated bicycle lanes, clearly marked crosswalks, and possibly dedicated access for trucks. Improvements to the Beech Street intersection are also needed for traffic and pedestrian safety.
This is not the first use study of West Commercial Street, Needelman said, but he and Morris noted it is needed because of the rate of development and potential for building on unused land across the street from the railroad.
“There wasn’t something that connected the dots and how to bring it together into one core,” Needelman said.
It is anticipated any pedestrian path will be on the north, or inland, side of Commercial Street, where land owned by developer J.B. Brown is also on the market.
“The north side favors it by nature because that is where the majority of the non-marine development will be,” Needelman said.
A study is underway on how to best link trail the Martin’s Point Trail to Tukey’s Bridge, Back Cove and the waterfront. Congestion on the Tukey’s pedestrian trail, seen last month, is also becoming a concern.