PORTLAND – A city panel on Wednesday unanimously endorsed a proposal that could lead to construction of the city’s first two traffic roundabouts.
The single-lane roundabouts, which still need approval by the full City Council, would both be built near the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine School of Law – one where Deering Avenue intersects with Bedford Street and the other at the intersection of Deering Avenue, Brighton Avenue and Falmouth Street.
The roundabouts would be one-way circles with the streets that now intersect leading to and exiting away from them.
An estimated tenth of a mile stretch of Brighton Avenue leading to Bedford Street would also be eliminated, bringing the number of streets intersecting there from six to five.
The city has been studying ways to improve mobility and safety at the six-legged intersection for more than a year.
USM has contributed $250,000 toward the traffic project, including $7,000 to pay Massachusetts-based traffic consultant Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. to design the alternatives.
The City Council’s Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee endorsed the $1.5 million proposal over a competing $1.3 million plan that would have used traffic signals to improve safety at the two intersections.
USM and the University Neighborhood Organization backed the plan for the roundabouts after the proposal was tweaked based on feedback from advocates for the visually-impaired, who said they want raised sidewalks.
“We feel (the roundabout) is an option that could have a transformative impact on the university, neighborhood and this gateway location,” said USM spokesman Bob Caswell.
Public Safety officials have also signed off on the roundabouts, according to Bruce Hyman, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator. Staff also recommended the roundabouts because they tend to reduce the number and severity of auto accidents at intersections, he said.
The committee — Councilors John Anton, Cheryl Leeman, Kevin Donoghue and Chairman David Marshall — expressed concern over the private property that would have to be acquired to install the rotaries.
Staff had estimated that 1,100 to 2,580 square feet of land, assessed at $30,000, would have to be purchased or taken through eminent domain.
“I hope you can do everything possible to minimize the impact on private property,” City Councilor Cheryl Leeman said. “My support is contingent on that.”
Consultant Marty Kennedy said the sidewalks could be narrowed and the roundabouts shifted to minimize the impact on private property.
Staff will incorporate the committee recommendation into a final report to the full City Council. If approved, the timing of the project will depend on the city’s ability to secure the estimated $1.5 million to pay for it.
In other business, the committee failed to approve a resolution opposing the transportation of tar sands oil through the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line.
Opponents and supporters of the resolution pointed to several factual errors in a draft version Tuesday. The committee will revisit the revised resolution at its next meeting before sending it to the full council for approval.
Leeman, who left the meeting early, asked that the next draft resolution note the sources of facts.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: