February 26, 2013

Traffic changes coming to Congress Street

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The City Council has unanimously approved changes to Congress Street that are designed to improve bus and traffic flow downtown.

click image to enlarge

A man exits the Zoom bus at Portland City Hall in this 2011 file photo. The Zoom bus to Biddeford and Saco is one of several regional transit lines that travel on Congress Street and hope to benefit from bus stop improvements on the route.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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The plan will remove stoplights at Casco and Brown streets, and consolidate the number of bus stops from 15 to 10 or 11 between State and Franklin streets, said Senior Planner William Needelman.

New bus shelters may be built at five of those locations, where buses would stop in the traffic lanes.

The city would have to extend the sidewalk to make room for the new shelters. Before moving forward with that part of the project, the city will re-stripe the road to make sure that emergency vehicles can pass safely.

"We're proceeding cautiously," said City Councilor David Marshall, who leads the council's Transportation Committee.

Although five of the stops would require buses to stop in the travel lanes, Marshall said the changes should improve traffic flow along Congress Street because there will be fewer bus stops, traffic signals will be removed and the remaining signals will be better coordinated.

The changes will cost $428,000, with $100,000 coming from the Federal Transit Administration.

The remaining portion would need to be funded in next year's city budget.

The approved plan is less ambitious than previously envisioned. The original plan would have reversed the flow of some one-way streets, including two one-way sections of Federal Street, and connected Federal Street to Franklin Street.

That plan was criticized last year by business owners who feared it could make downtown difficult to navigate and discourage people from driving to the area.

Needelman said eastbound stops at Longfellow Square, at Oak and Brown streets and Lincoln Park would be eliminated.

A westbound stop across from Lincoln Park at the Top of the Old Port parking lot would be eliminated, while other westbound stops would shift or be reconfigured, he said.

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

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings

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