Portland's Franklin Street fixes could cost $27 million

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PORTLAND — Changes recommended for Franklin Street could be pedestrian and bicyclist friendly, an economic catalyst, or even promote social justice.

But one thing is certain: They will be expensive.

In its meeting April 1, the public advisory committee studying the future of Franklin Street endorsed recommendations that could cost $26.7 million. The proposals will be presented to the City Council Transportation, Safety and Energy Committee at its April 15 meeting.

Advisory committee co-chairman Markos Miller, who led the group with City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, said some details must be worked out, and the plans will not fully suit everyone’s tastes.

“I see a lot here I like, I know it is not the perfect street for me,” Miller said.

Recommendations include building a roundabout at the intersection of Commercial and Franklin streets, re-opening access to Federal Street, and restoring a section of Lincoln Park lost during street expansion almost 50 years ago.

The committee also recommended re-opening Oxford Street to permit turns to and from Franklin Street, a bicycle and pedestrian path, and reconfiguring the Marginal Way intersection.

Changes at Marginal Way would include expanding the pedestrian crossing on the southern side of Franklin Street to provide better access to the East Bayside Trail, and preventing westbound Marginal Way traffic from anything but a right turn to the on-ramps for Interstate 295.

The intent is also to reduce the speed limit on Franklin from 35 mph to 25 mph, which will require approval from the state Department of Transportation.

The committee drew input from neighborhood residents, and business and nonprofit leaders. Study spokeswoman Carol Morris said the changes would be recommended in three phases, with the section from Commercial to Middle streets coming first.

The middle section is expected to be about 40 percent of the total cost, with the remaining sections each costing about 30 percent. The second phase would include work at Marginal Way up to Oxford Street.

Donoghue pressed for detailed cost estimates on each section in order to help guide City Council discussions.

“I think what I am going to be looking at most is how we address this from a capital standpoint,” he said.

Christian MilNeil of the East Bayside Neighborhood Organization, who is also a Portland Housing Authority commissioner, abstained from what was an otherwise unanimous vote supporting the recommendations.

MilNeil criticized the lack of pedestrian crossings and the configuration of crossings added at Federal and Oxford streets. He also pushed for a pedestrian crossing linking each side of Lancaster Street, in between the existing crossing at Somerset Street and proposed Oxford Street crossing, to give neighborhood residents easier access to Whole Foods Market.

“It is a social justice issue,” he said.

As it courses from Marginal Way to Middle Street, Franklin Street would be tapered, with the removal of most of its median strip. That would open about 195,000 square feet for development on either side of the roadway, and add between 62 feet and 78 feet to Lincoln Park, which is bordered by Congress, Franklin, Federal and Pearl streets.

At the northern end, the crossing area on the southbound side of Franklin Street would be expanded to better align with the East Bayside Trail, while sidewalks would be widened. Forcing westbound Marginal Way traffic to turn on to Interstate 295 remained a tough sell for Bill Hall, who represented the Casco Bay Islands on the committee.

“It is a huge mistake to tie that westbound Marginal Way to 295,” said Hall, who also serves on the city Planning Board.

Eliminating access across Marginal Way also troubled Miller.

“All the other alternatives involved more lanes, and more lanes are going to be more expensive and harder to do,” he said, adding the right-turn restriction could be changed in the future.

The full re-opening of Federal Street pleased Portland Trails representative Jamie Parker, except for the inclusion of only one crosswalk that was not directly aligned with the intersection.

The roundabout could feature an elevated bicycle lane around the perimeter or a marked lane in the center, and would be designed to provide more safety and comfort for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Randy Dunton, a traffic engineer with Gray-based Gorrill-Palmer Civil Engineering, cautioned that plan drawings were preliminary as the discussion about bicycle lanes developed, but overall, the roundabout concept won over skeptics on and off the committee.

“Convincing the skeptical Peaks Islanders a roundabout would work was fun,” Hall joked.

Chris O’Neil, a liaison from the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, said he joined the committee with skepticism about how vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists could share the road. The roundabout is an example of how his thinking has changed.

“We are sharing that space now,” he said, “but we are sharing it in a really dysfunctional way.”

Once a street bordering the city’s Little Italy neighborhood, Franklin Street was widened as parted of an urban renewal project that began in 1958, according to a history compiled for committee use. By 1967, neighborhoods on both sides of the street were largely gone.

The previous phase of committee work, to assess conditions and potential improvements, began in 2007 and concluded in 2009. Miller said while the latest recommendations may not have everything individual committee members hoped for, he is optimistic about implementation and future improvements.

“I think we have a partner in MDOT to make this happen,” he said. “If there are some things we don’t get, it does not mean there is not another opportunity down the road.”

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

Corrected April 7 to show middle section of construction is most expensive.

Sidebar Elements

Drivers and pedestrians using the intersection of Commercial and Franklin streets in Portland could eventually be using a roundabout, if recommendations from a study group are implemented.

Recommendations include expanding the pedestrian crossing area and sidewalks at the intersection of Franklin Street and Marginal Way, and would force vehicles on westbound Marginal Way to enter Interstate 295.

A preliminary view of the roundabout recommended for the intersection of Franklin and Commercial streets was shared April 1 during a public advisory committee meeting. The roundabout will be the most expensive element of an estimated $27 million project.

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.