Traffic changes being considered for Congress Street in Portland are aimed partly at improving bus service.
By Tom Bell
PORTLAND - The City Council will consider a plan Monday night that calls for installing new bus shelters and eliminating traffic lights and some bus stops along Congress Street to improve traffic flow and bus service through the central downtown district.
The plan would also establish locations on Congress Street where buses would stop in the traffic lanes, rather than pull into bays on the sides of the street.
It is a scaled-down version of a more ambitious plan that was criticized last year by business owners who feared it could make downtown difficult to navigate and discourage people from driving to the area.
That 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.
"What's coming out is a water-downed version of the original," said Councilor David Marshall. "It does not have the same impact on downtown, both positive or negative."
Marshall chairs the council's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee, which voted 3-0 late last year to endorse the plan.
The changes would cost $428,000 to implement, with the Federal Transit Administration providing $100,000 to cover 80 percent of the cost of five new bus shelters.
City Manager Mark Reese wants to fund the project in the city's operating budget and is looking for the council's endorsement, said Michael Bobinsky, the city's public services director.
If funded, the work could be completed next fall or in the spring of 2014, he said.
The changes would be made along Congress Street from Franklin Street to State Street.
The most notable changes would be the removal of the traffic signals at Brown and Casco streets. "Those are everybody's least-favorite stoplights," Marshall said.
The project also includes:
• Coordinating traffic signals between State and Pearl streets.
• Installing new traffic signs, including overhead signs, along Congress Street at High and Temple streets.
• Consolidating and improving bus stops between State and Franklin streets, with new shelters at five stops.
• Extending sidewalks in some places into the existing Congress Street travel lanes to allow passengers to board buses stopped in the lanes.
To address the fire department's concerns that buses would impede emergency vehicles, the city would test the locations with pavement paint for a season before extending the sidewalks.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: