Woodfords Corner work in Portland will be costly, disruptive

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PORTLAND — Details about reconstruction of Forest Avenue will not be known until closer to the expected start of the project next year, but two things are certain: It will be extensive and expensive.

That’s the message city and state officials delivered to an audience of more than 80 people March 31 in a meeting at Woodfords Congregational Church.

“This project is what we consider a ‘complete street’ project. Everyone is given an equal share, an equal opportunity,” consulting engineer Dale Mitchell of Westbrook-based HNTB said about the interests of drivers, bicycle riders and pedestrians.

The $2.6 million project on Forest Avenue will extend from Revere Street to just past the railroad crossing near Ocean Avenue. It will include new railroad crossing gates, fewer parking spaces, overhead signs to guide traffic, and expanded sidewalks to reduce the length of crosswalks at Woodfords Corner.

The city share for work will be $640,600, paid with funds from capital improvement plans from fiscal years 2013 and 2015. It is broken down into $304,600, or 55 percent, of the cost to install new crossing gates, median area and a traffic signals at the railroad crossing;  $192,000, or 10 percent, for the city’s obligation to the basic MDOT plan, and $144,000 to repave Forest Avenue.

Because the final design is not complete, there remain some unanswered questions about truck traffic, replacing lost parking spaces on Forest Avenue, and how the city will maintain the stretch from Forest Avenue and Revere Street to beyond the railroad crossing.

The meeting was hosted by Maine Department of Transportation Project Manager Aurele Gorneau and city Transportation Program Manager Bruce Hyman, with input from city Urban Designer Caitlyn Cameron and Transportation Systems Engineer Jeremiah Bartlett.

Work is expected to last through the 2017 construction season. Forest Avenue will be altered to have two outbound dedicated travel lanes (while keeping a dedicated left turn lane to Woodford and Deering streets), and parking will be eliminated outbound between Woodford Street and Vannah Avenue. All intersections converging at Woodfords Corner will be narrowed to reduce the length of crosswalks.

As a separate project, city engineer Brad Roland also announced a stormwater drain system will be installed under Woodford Street, between Forest Avenue to Back Cove.

The $3.6 million sewer separation project is part of continued work across the city to separate stormwater and sewer mains, and will be funded in the upcoming capital improvement plan for city sewer operations. The bonds are repaid through user fees.

Hyman said the $2.6 million street project is rooted in the Transforming Forest Avenue study the City Council accepted in 2012, as the Woodfords Corner area was the top study priority and first the city will act on.

“This is as much about transportation as economic development,” Hyman said.

The two-party agreement with DOT on the scope and financing of the work was approved March 21 by the City Council, about a year after it was first introduced. The agreement had been revised to add more work to the railroad grade crossing, which added $554,000 to the project cost.

A new traffic signal will turn red at the approach of a train, and a raised median will be installed to further prevent vehicles from driving around crossing gates.

Bartlett said access on inbound Forest Avenue to a strip mall at the corner of Concord Street will be eliminated because the curb cut will be beyond the new crossing gate. The city is now considering making Concord Street two-way at the entrance to the strip mall.

Overarching goals are to reduce congestion and improve pedestrian access at the intersections of Forest Avenue as it passes from Revere Street to beyond the railroad crossing.

“Woodfords Corner over the years has lost its place, it has become this noisy, scary place to be,” Mitchell said. “Everyone is caught up at intersections, running red lights and jumping green lights.”

Cameron said the project is also intended to restore a “neighborhood feel” to the area.

The area near the Oddfellows Hall at the corner of Forest Avenue and Woodford Street is a particular focus. The sidewalk will be expanded in front of the Oddfellow’s Hall, eliminating a right-turn “slip lane” from Forest Avenue to Woodford Street.

That will also make it impossible for trucks to turn right from Forest Avenue to Woodford Street, so Bartlett said the city is considering allowing commercial truck traffic on Baxter Boulevard to Vannah Street so deliveries can be made to some Woodfords Corner businesses.

How the work will affect traffic is not fully determined, either; Mitchell noted it is up to the contractor to set up the work schedule. He said one lane in each direction would probably remain open, and night work could be involved, but delays would be “inevitable.”

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

Planners hope traffic and pedestrian safety on Forest Avenue at Woodfords Corner will be improved by a $2.6 million “complete streets” project due to start next year.

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.