Saturday, March 8, 2014
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Brian Peterson stands at the intersection of Congress and State streets in Portland. He opposes the city’s plan to convert High and State streets into two-way streets.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Officials want to take the same approach to undo another Gruen legacy -- Spring Street, four lanes of traffic divided by a raised median.
The conversion of High and State streets into one-way couplets in 1973 was part of Gruen's partially completed plan to create a ring road around the downtown core.
While remaking Franklin and Spring streets would require a lot of expensive infrastructure work, restoring High and State streets to their original configuration would be relatively inexpensive, costing $1 million to $2 million to replace the traffic lights and make other adjustments at the 12 intersections between the Casco Bay Bridge and Interstate 295, said Mike Bobinsky, director of Portland's Public Services Department.
He said the city's staff plans to request $150,000 in the fiscal 2013-14 operating budget for a preliminary engineering study.
The City Council's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee will discuss the scope of the study Feb. 20.
A preliminary feasibility study in December showed there would be no major problems that would prohibit the conversion of the streets.
This month, the city also plans to submit a formal request to the Maine Department of Transportation to relocate Route 77 from State and High streets to West Commercial Street and the Fore River Parkway.
Since the Fore River Parkway was completed in 2005, connecting Exit 5 of Interstate 295 with West Commercial Street, traffic volumes on High and State streets have declined, with traffic at some intersections dropping as much as 20 percent, said City Councilor David Marshall, who chairs the council's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee.
Marshall said the Fore River Parkway is a longer route from the Casco Bay Bridge to I-295 but has far fewer traffic lights. Designating it as Route 77 would encourage drivers to break their old habit of using High and State streets to get across the city.
"By moving traffic to the Fore River Parkway, motorists no longer have to drive though the two densest urban neighborhoods in the state," Marshall said.
Bobinsky said traffic studies indicate that most of the drivers who use High and State streets are traveling to local destinations, and that the couplet is not the "big regional-type roadway" that Peterson describes.
In 2011, a count of vehicles entering or exiting the Casco Bay Bridge showed that fewer than 30 percent were passing through Portland's peninsula.
The greatest average traffic volume -- 13,650 vehicles a day -- was recorded at the intersection of High and Spring streets.
The city's Parkside and West End neighborhood associations support the initiative.
Nobody wants a high-speed arterial running through their neighborhood, and city officials are right to put the interests of neighborhoods ahead of motorists who want to drive through the city as quickly as possible, said Emma Holder, president of the Parkside Neighborhood Association.
Bobinsky said Peterson raises valid questions that must be answered before the project can move forward. That's why more traffic and engineering studies are needed and the findings must be distributed to the traveling public.
"I understand where Brian is coming from," Bobinsky said. "Where I do agree with Brian is that we have to have the facts to make a decision."
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: