The Portland City Council on Monday could take a key step toward the long-term goal of creating a continuous trail around the city’s peninsula.

Councilors are being asked to enter into an agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation for the design and construction of the West Commercial Street Trail, which would run from the Star Match office buildings to the Fore River Trail. If approved, construction would likely get underway during the summer of 2018.

The project would make an important connection in the city’s decade-long goal of creating a trail around the city’s downtown area, which is rimmed with waterfront access.

“We’re coming out with our new comprehensive plan that very strongly emphasizes livability and sustainability,” said Bruce Hyman, the city’s transportation program manager. “Having a trail network like this would strongly support the livability and sustainability goals by providing non-vehicular access to the downtown area.”

About two-thirds of the trail is already built. The Bayside Trail connects that neighborhood to the Back Cove Trail and the Eastern Promenade Trail, which ends at Franklin Street. The city would add painted bike lanes, which would be shared with vehicles, along the downtown portion of Commercial Street.

The proposed West Commercial Street Trail would connect to the Fore River Trail. That would leave one last connection to be made – from Fore River Parkway/Portland Transportation Center to the Bayside Trail.

The city is currently studying different routes to make that connection, which would either wind through Deering Oaks or run along the rail lines between the park and Interstate 295. The city has been gathering public feedback about the preferred route and a decision is expected within the next month or so, said City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin.

Construction of the West Commercial Street Trail would cost nearly $353,500, with all but $70,700 being funded through federal sources. The municipal portion would be funded through the city’s 2014 Capital Improvement Plan.

The city first studied the possibility of establishing a dedicated trail on West Commercial Street back in 2009, Hyman said.

The city revisited the plan in 2014 as part of the West Commercial Street Multi-Modal Corridor Study, which was undertaken after the International Marine Terminal resumed its container service and Portland Yacht Services built a new facility in that area.

The city is currently looking to increase building heights along West Commercial Street to accommodate a cold storage facility that could be accessed by sea, rail and road. That proposal has been met with significant community opposition.

Hyman said those developments, as well as the potential redevelopment of the land side of West Commercial Street into mixed uses, made it clear that the best way to make that portion of the city safe for cyclists and pedestrians was to construct a new dedicated pathway, rather than having cyclists ride in the road.

“There are paved shoulders and bike lanes on West Commercial Street, but that section of roadway would likely never be compatible for on-the-road biking for mom and dads with their kids,” Hyman said. “We foresee the off-road pathway as a high-quality bikeway and pedestrian way to connect the downtown with the rest of Portland. It’s a very critical link.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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