South Portland, Portland seek studies for new transportation corridors

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city has submitted a grant application for studies with the intention of eventually increasing pedestrian and bicycle access, and building an additional east-west thoroughfare. 

The city applied for the money in a joint application with Portland through the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee, which distributes federal and state money for transportation projects and studies throughout greater Portland, City Manager Jim Gailey told the City Council Monday.

Councilors unanimously approved the application. If it is approved by PACTS, completion of the studies will likely lead to several multi-million dollar capital improvement projects.

Gailey said one study would focus on creating a “multimodal transportation corridor” in the area from Forest Avenue and Route 302 in Portland to Route 77, Southern Maine Community College and Bug Light Park. 

As a means to “directly support job growth and economic development within Portland and South Portland,” the project will also “improve safety, accessibility and mobility for all users, including vehicular, transit users, bicyclists and pedestrians,” Gailey said. 

The study is estimated to cost about $225,000, $20,000 of which would come from South Portland via an existing Transit TIF and the city’s undesignated fund balance, Gailey said. 

The second study would focus on the Highland Avenue corridor and examine the possibility of constructing an additional east-west road to enhance mobility and reduce “response times for emergency vehicles traveling from one end of the city to the other,” Gailey said.

The goal is to determine whether a new “new cross-town connector roadway linking Interstate 95 with South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough,” could be built off Highland Avenue, Gailey said.  

The new road would essentially run perpendicular to Highland Avenue and connect with a road built to access the new Municipal Services Facility. That road would then extend across city-owned property toward Main Street and Exit 45 of the Maine Turnpike, Gailey said Wednesday afternoon.  

The connection would improve highway access and “ease congestion” on Broadway, which is currently the city’s only east-west connector. Like the first proposed study, this one would also enhance pedestrian, bicycle and transit hub access.

“South Portland is like a big sausage, and it has one seam (Broadway),” Councilor Claude Morgan said at the Aug. 17 meeting.  “All of our emergency vehicles have to get either from one side of town to the other. We have to find ways to improve (those emergency response times) as we grow the city.”

This study is estimated to cost $104,000, including $20,800 from the city, which would be covered by the existing Hannaford TIF, Gailey said. 

“When I look at an order like this, I look at a very small shared investment of what the city will get back from this,” Morgan said. “These all fill important needs. The importance of pedestrian and bike ways, we’re just learning how important that is. Aside from the Greenbelt, we don’t have a lot of corridors. That’s an impediment to the growth of biking in our community.”

Councilor Tom Blake also supported the studies, but criticized the lack of a thorough vetting from the council. 

“We should have workshopped this,” Blake said. Supporting this measure is “asking to spend $329,000 for studies, and of that, about $30,000 would come from our taxpayers. That equates to tens of millions of dollars for (future) projects.”

“I will support it with reservations,” Blake adde, “(but) I think we have lacked our homework here and public discussion.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.