To the people who live, work or commute through East Bayside, the corner of Franklin Street and Marginal Way is a major intersection in an up-and-coming neighborhood.

To state transportation planners, it’s just a highway exit ramp.

There is no other way to read the latest decision of the Maine Department of Transportation, which plans to ignore a reasonable request by Portland officials to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle access to the Back Cove and Bayside trails when the state completes a redesign of the Interstate 295 exit 7 interchange as part of a multimillion-dollar highway project.

The state’s plan not only violates the interests of the people who live and work in Portland, but goes against the policy goals of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He has declared that the motorized vehicles first, last and always policy is financially and environmentally unsustainable.

State officials say they intend to finish the highway project first and then, as an afterthought, study how to make pedestrian improvements later.

This has been the modus operandi for transportation planners for far too long. Sidewalks, crosswalks and trail connections would be more effective and probably less costly if they are part of the original design of the project. Making such improvements wait until after the motorized vehicles are taken care of creates a streetscape that is only suitable for cars and trucks.

This is not acceptable. Traffic congestion is expensive for the city and parking uses space that could be put to more profitable development. The city and state both share an interest in reducing the number of cars on Portland’s streets and increasing the transportation alternatives available to people who choose to use them.

As a matter of public health, both levels of government share an interest in increasing the number of people who walk and ride bikes around the city, particularly children who need safe routes to get to and from school if they are going to get there under their own power.

Improvements to the I-295 exit ramps that don’t address the needs of non-motorized users are not improvements.

The state should stop this project until it can find a more balanced approach to addressing the entire community’s transportation needs.


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