People who live and work around Woodfords Corner in Portland are used to chaos, given the yearlong construction project that has torn up sidewalks, streets and parking lots at the busy intersection.

But those who live and work in the surrounding neighborhoods say they are dreading a 55-hour shutdown of part of Forest Avenue this weekend to allow Pan Am Railways to rebuild two railroad crossings. The shutdown comes just in time for Deering Center’s annual Porchfest celebration Sunday afternoon, when music is performed on porches, lawns and driveways in the neighborhood, which will also serve as the primary detour route during the upcoming road closure.

“What are we going to do? We’ll continue to work to be an oasis of good times in the midst of the maelstrom, for everyone who lives around here and anyone else who can get to us,” said Birch Shambaugh, owner of Woodford Food & Beverage at 660 Forest Ave.

Woodford Food & Beverage is ground zero of the $5.6 million construction project aimed at making one of the city’s busiest intersections more livable, walkable and bikeable. That the popular restaurant’s patrons continue to choose to sit at the outside tables while traffic whizzes by just a few feet away, stirring up the dust from the torn-up streets and sidewalks, shows how adaptable Woodfords Corner denizens can be.

But the railway project will be a true test of their adaptability starting Friday at 8 p.m., when Forest Avenue will be closed to vehicles between Stevens Avenue and Woodford Street so Pan Am Railways can rebuild the rail crossings at Concord Street and Ocean Avenue, and also rebuild the crossing on Saunders Street.

The closure will allow Pan Am to address several issues with the rail crossings, the Maine Department of Transportation said. The existing rail beds will be reconstructed, which will require the removal of existing rails, ties and ballasts. New concrete and steel crossing panels and new, longer railroad ties will be installed to better handle the heavy traffic loads at Woodfords Corner.

The project also includes new signal upgrades. And, because the new roadway will be wider, Pan Am needs to install longer crossing arms and move the foundations, which are currently in the middle of planned sidewalks and bike lanes, the transportation department said.

Crews will work day and night to complete the project before rush hour Monday morning. The signals will be upgraded later and will not require the road to be closed.


Jennifer Thoits of Everchanging Seasons Consignment and Boutique said that until last week, she could rely on “the lovely regulars who find their way in” despite the torn-up sidewalks.

While city officials issued a statement that said businesses along Forest Avenue will remain open during the shutdown, some business owners indicated that they might not bother.

Jennifer Thoits, owner of Everchanging Seasons Consignment Boutique at 710 Forest Ave., said Saturday she had not yet decided what to do during the shutdown.

Thoits said that up until last week the construction hadn’t been so bad. She said she learned to turn up the store’s sound system to block out the noise, and relied on “the lovely regulars who find their way in” despite the torn-up sidewalks and lack of pedestrian crossings.

But her views changed last week when the construction crews started to dismantle a portion of the parking lot in front of her building. Between the noise, the dust and the heat, Thoits said she was not pleased.

“I was close to locking up for three days this week,” she said.

The construction project got underway in August 2017, paused through the winter and started up again in the spring. It is expected to run through December. Much of the work takes place at night to lessen the impact on the 27,000 vehicles that pass through Woodfords Corner on Forest Avenue on an average day.

Spencer Thibodeau, chairman of the City Council’s transportation committee, said he is unaware of any completion date postponements or cost overruns so far.


The city is picking up about $1.2 million of the overall cost of the project, which is being managed by the Maine DOT. The state is paying about $500,000, the federal government about $1.5 million and utility companies about $3 million.

Jasper Ziller, who lives at 16 Nevens St., a quiet one-way road that parallels Forest Avenue, said he doesn’t know what will happen this weekend when traffic will be rerouted to Woodford Street, which his street empties onto.

Jasper Ziller of Nevens Road talks about how construction in the Woodfords Corner area neighborhood has affected him. “It has been tough,” he said, “but hopefully in the end it will be good.

He said it has been very tempting at times to go the wrong way on Nevens as the construction project grinds on.

“It has been tough, but hopefully in the end it will be good,” Ziller said.

Valerie Wright, who lives at 35 Concord St., said she was enjoying the peace and quiet that fell over her neighborhood when crews stopped their work on Labor Day weekend. The week before, crews had ripped up the street to make improvements to the underground gas lines.

“That was much more disruptive,” Wright said.

Wright is hoping that her neighborhood will return to normal after the Forest Avenue closure this weekend. She is looking forward to a more walkable Woodfords Corner business district, but the project is not going to change the fact that thousands of vehicles pass through it each day.


Business owners say the project can’t end too soon.

Woodford Food & Beverage owner Birch Shambaugh says the Woodfords Corner construction project “has had a profound impact” on his business.

“This has had a profound impact. It is not on our list of favorite things,” said Shambaugh, owner of Woodford Food & Beverage.

Andrew Zarro, co-owner of Little Woodfords, a coffee shop at 643 Forest Ave. that opened last October in the thick of construction, said four businesses have closed since the project began.

“There have been days we have had to close for the day because physically you could not get into the space. There were days when we lost water, and water and coffee kind of go hand in hand,” Zarro said.

He said he has done a lot of deep breathing and just kept putting one foot in front of the other to get through it. “I have no control over it,” he said.

He said the Friends of Woodfords Corner has been very supportive of those who have stuck it out.

Vallerie Wright of Concord Street says she’s hoping her neighborhood will soon return to normal.

The group of residents, businesses and organizations, which formed in 2016, has been advocating for the affected businesses. President Teresa Valliere has the cellphone number for the Maine DOT project manager and is not afraid to use it.

“She made sure they gave us makeshift ramps” the day a giant trench prevented anyone from getting into the shop, Zarro said.

He said the work is definitely winding down outside his business as the project moves farther up Forest Avenue. Soon the trees will be planted in the tree wells and a little public park is getting close to completion, Zarro said.

He said his business will barely escape the Forest Avenue shutdown next weekend.

“We are really at that point. We are so close,” he said.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: bquimby

Correction: This story was updated at 9:09 a.m. on September 6, 2018 to correct the closure time.

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