Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Gillian Graham firstname.lastname@example.org
SOUTH PORTLAND – As enrollment at Southern Maine Community College increased rapidly over the last decade, so did traffic on Broadway.
Traffic is heavy on Broadway in South Portland on Tuesday morning, Oct. 16, 2012.
Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
On weekday mornings, commuters in the east side of the city now face long lines at traffic lights and a steady flow of traffic to the waterfront campus. That sometimes causes long waits to turn onto Broadway and head toward the Casco Bay Bridge.
Some residents have voiced their concerns to city and college officials, who agree that the traffic is an issue.
"There is a problem, it's just a question of how much of a problem it is and how expensive it would be to fix the problem," said Tex Haeuser, the city's planning and development director.
Residents, city officials and college President Ronald Cantor will examine the issue when they meet Thursday for a forum. The meeting, scheduled at 6:30 p.m. in the college's Culinary Arts Building on Fort Road, was initiated by the Willard Neighborhood Association.
Traffic on Broadway has increased in recent years as enrollment has grown at SMCC, but city officials don't have specific numbers that show the volume between the Casco Bay Bridge and the campus.
Enrollment at SMCC has increased from about 3,500 students in 2003 to nearly 7,500 this year, said college spokesman Matt Wickenheiser.
This year, about 5,600 students are taking at least one class on the South Portland campus, while others are taking courses online, on SMCC's midcoast campus in Brunswick or at satellite centers. There are 430 students who live on the South Portland campus.
Cantor said the school has taken several steps to accommodate its "tremendous" growth in the past 10 years, including designating some parking spots for people who carpool and encouraging students to use the city bus service. The college pays for students to ride for free when they show their identification cards.
That program, now in its third school year, continues to grow, with about 200 students now taking the bus each day, according to school officials.
During the 2011-12 school year, students made 90,894 bus trips, an increase of more than 13 percent over the previous year.
"We've taken at least 220 cars off campus each day," Cantor said.
The college is looking for other ways to reduce traffic delays, including changing its class schedule. Because traffic backs up before 8 a.m. classes on many days, the college is pushing to begin some classes as early as 7 a.m., Cantor said, to spread out the flow of traffic to campus.
Haeuser, who will attend the forum, said he hears from residents who complain about traffic on Broadway but those complaints don't seem to be increasing. Many of the concerns he hears center on long waits to turn left onto Broadway from side streets.
"There's been a question as to whether or not it would be good to put in a traffic signal at Broadway and Sawyer," he said. "Some folks think it would be good because it would break up some of the convoys of cars heading toward the school right before or after class."
There isn't enough traffic on Broadway to justify a regular traffic light in place of the current flashing light, Haeuser said.
Lesley Hoey, who lives on Thompson Street, near Willard Square, and commutes to work near the Maine Mall, said she faces "major congestion" pretty much any way she goes to work.
To avoid heavy traffic going to the community college, she heads to Broadway via Cottage Road, only to get stuck in lines with commuters going to Portland from Cape Elizabeth.
"It's a drag," she said. "I have to leave a lot earlier for work."
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