Study presents ways to make Portland's Forest Avenue corridor 'smarter'

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PORTLAND — A new rotary in Morrill’s Corner? Redesigned access to the Forest Avenue-Interstate 295 interchange?

Those are but two ideas under consideration after the final public meetings Nov. 1 and 2 on the Portland-South Portland Smart Corridor Plan.

“These are ideas that have merit for looking at a little further,” Ned Codd, the planning and environmental lead with Boston-based WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff said at the Nov. 1 forum at the University of Southern Maine.

Codd noted nothing in the recommendations and alternatives is a definite plan, since the study results will first be forwarded to city staff.

The $200,000 study commissioned by the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, known as PACTS, focuses on transportation, land use and development extending from Bug Light and Southern Maine Community College in South Portland north to the vexing confluence of Forest, Stevens and Allen avenues that makes up Morrill’s Corner.

“There is too much traffic for the road,” Codd said, noting the 27 vehicle accidents from 2013-2015 and frequent delays are the cause for poor grades given by the MDOT at the separate intersections comprising Morrill’s Corner. Additionally, three accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians or bicyclists were recorded from 2010-2015.

Changing the southbound Forest Avenue approach to Stevens could allow two lanes of traffic to continue on Forest Avenue beyond the intersection, where it could be funneled into one lane, and Codd said fixing timing on traffic signals would also benefit public transportation.

“If a bus catches a few more green signals along the way, it can really improve service,”  he said.

A rotary appears impractical to Codd, he said, because it would require two lanes, and need property acquisitions for construction.

Yet it was an idea worthy of continued discussion for some neighbors, who said an alternative to reconstructing how Stevens Avenue meets Forest Avenue would effectively sever Bishop Street from the neighborhood by eliminating left turns to and from Forest Avenue.

Neighbors and business owners were also concerned the redesigns would eliminate on-street parking, while benefiting only the commuters from outlying towns.

“You’re making Morrill’s kind of a freeway,” said Sam Minervino, the owner of Samuel’s Bar and Grill at 1160 Forest Ave.

In the extended stretch of Forest Avenue from Read to Walton streets, the study notes the scarcity of marked pedestrian crossings and bus shelters, and suggests new crosswalks with warning lights at Poland and Waverly streets.

On Forest Avenue between Walton Street and Woodfords Corner, the study suggests pedestrian crossings with warning lights at Hartley Street and by the entrance to Baxter Woods.

Nothing suggested in the study would alter the ongoing reconstruction at Woodfords Corner, Codd said.

“We think it is a really great project, does a lot of good work, we are accepting it as a given,” Codd said.

The end result of work at Woodfords Corner, where Forest and Deering avenues, and Woodford, Vannah and Ocean streets converge, will be adding another lane to outbound Forest Avenue while also reconstructing intersections for better pedestrian safety and dedicating bicycle lanes.

The study looks to build on the Woodfords Corner work by reducing southbound Forest Avenue to one lane from Woodfords Corner to Noyes Street, and eliminating southbound left turns to Belmont Street. Two-lane southbound traffic would resume south of Noyes Street to the Deering Oaks Park area.

The study also suggests continuous bike lanes from Revere Street south, new crosswalks at Lincoln, Noyes, Fessenden and Fenwick streets, and eliminating as many as 27 on-street parking spaces on either side of Forest Avenue.

The challenges at I-295 do not always involve linear movements, as Codd noted the age and design of the interchange ramps cause more weaving traffic.

In 2015, the MDOT made improvements to the interchange to help pedestrians and bicyclists get through the area, but Codd said getting rid of the cloverleaf design for ramps in favor of more direct approaches with traffic signals would also allow redevelopment of land now taken by the access ramps.

“This would be an expansive fix,” he said.

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

Easing congestion and improving safety at Morrill’s Corner in Portland might be done by changing how Allen, Forest and Stevens avenues converge, according to a study outlined Nov. 1 at USM.

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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.