About 100 people turned out Wednesday evening to hear what the state and city have in mind for transforming Woodfords Corner into a place where pedestrians can walk without fearing for their lives and business owners can thrive.
The intersection, which is almost always clogged with traffic during peak travel times, is where Forest Avenue, Woodford Street, Deering Avenue and traffic from Ocean Avenue converge.
More than 22,000 cars and trucks travel through the intersection each day, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.
Now, the city and Maine Department of Transportation are proposing $2.6 million in improvements to Woodfords Corner that may include an unusual street lamp sculpture, fewer on-street parking spaces, a public plaza, street crosswalks and dedicated bicycle lanes.
Plans also call for adding travel lanes in each direction on Forest Avenue to improve traffic flow.
“Forest Avenue is a critically important transportation corridor and really important from a regional transportation perspective,” said Bruce Hyman, a Transportation and Community Planner for the city of Portland. “But it’s as much an economic project as it is a transportation project. Hopefully, this will strengthen existing businesses and attract new business.”
The neighborhood is a collection of stores, restaurants and shops that includes a Dunkin’ Donuts, a seafood store, barbershop, restaurants and a roller derby store.
City and state officials also want to make Woodfords Corner, now known more for its traffic jams than anything else, a more pleasant place to visit.
The project calls for construction of a public plaza with benches, trees and an unusual piece of artwork to be installed in front of the Oddfellows Hall, a roughly 80-foot tall clock tower that is the intersection’s most prominent feature. Portland’s Public Art Committee is recommending that the city hire local artist Aaron Stephan to design and install a street lamp sculpture on the plaza.
Public Art Committee members will ask the City Council on Monday to approve spending $25,000 for the sculpture. The expense would be covered through the Art Committee’s budget.
After Wednesday’s meeting ended, a small group of people gathered around a posterboard with samples of street lamp sculptures that Stephan has done in Farmington and Lubbock, Texas. One woman called the artwork creepy, another said it was ugly.
But, Lin Linsberger, chairwoman of Portland’s Public Art Committee, defended Stephan’s work, saying that people in Lubbock told her they loved looking at the sculpture. Planners believe a sculpture would bring a visual identity to an otherwise bland intersection.
In the meantime, the city will continue to work with the state on refining project details, with an anticipated construction date of April 2017. The city plans to send the project out to bid this fall.
While the majority who attended the meeting at the Woodfords Congregational Church expressed support for changes, many had concerns about the loss of some on-street parking spaces and changes in traffic patterns.
Dale Mitchell, a consultant hired by the Department of Transportation to oversee the project, said his staff has taken great care to ensure the safety of pedestrians. Pedestrians are often terrified of crossing the intersection now because of the congestion. The project calls for installation of sidewalk bump outs, which will make street crossings shorter, as well as park benches and trees.
“Pedestrian traffic was as much at the heart of this project as anything,” Mitchell said. “Woodfords Corner has lost its place. It has become a noisy, congested and dangerous place to be. What we are trying to do here is create a sense of place, to bring Woodfords Corner back to the community.”