PORTLAND — The state is expected to open bids today on a $2 million project aimed at making traffic flow more smoothly through one of the city’s most congested intersections.

The Maine Department of Transportation will spend the money to add lanes to both the southbound and northbound Exit 7 ramps off Interstate 295, and will install traffic lights at the ends of both ramps to prevent traffic backups.

While those improvements might sound appealing to the motorists who commute daily through the Marginal Way/Franklin Street intersection, the bid does not include funds to create a bicycle/pedestrian path connecting East Bayside and the new Bayside Trail with the trail around Back Cove.

Mark Latti, a spokesman for the MDOT, said the state is committed to reserving space for the connecting path under the Exit 7 overpass, but will not complete the connection until the interchange improvements are finished and engineers have time to assess the impact of such dramatic traffic changes on pedestrians.

He said he did not know how wide the path would be.

“That’s something (the bike path) we have been planning for all along. The space will be there for the trail connection,” Latti said. “We fully intend to build it, but now is not the time.”

The lack of funds for a connecting path to Back Cove prompted a flurry of e-mails and phone calls from the Maine League of Young Voters to Gov. John Baldacci’s office. Joy Leach, a spokeswoman for the governor, said his office received about 30 complaints Tuesday.

The league cited a Portland City Council resolution, adopted March 15, that endorsed including a pedestrian connection to the Back Cove walking trail from East Bayside.

“We’re pretty astounded that MDOT is completely disregarding the City Council and its resolution that this project would include a full trail connection,” the league said in its e-mail to members.

The council resolution states that the Back Cove trail connection should be created no later than the conclusion of traffic improvements in the area of Franklin Street and Marginal Way.

Latti said Exit 7 improvements, which will begin this summer, should take about one year to complete.

Christian MilNeil is chairman of Portland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee. He is also a member of the league.

He said the state’s plan is deficient not only because it lacks funds for the path, but because it does not provide funds for a crosswalk.

“Our biggest concern is that the state has resisted spending money on anything that would benefit pedestrians. It’s all going to highway improvements,” MilNeil said. “We’re just asking for safe, pedestrian crossings at that intersection.”

MilNeil remains skeptical that the state will follow through on its promise to complete the connection to Back Cove.

“Why can’t we build the project right the first time, instead of doing it in fits and starts?” he said.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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