The notoriously congested interchange connecting Interstate 295 and Franklin Street in Portland is slated for a $5.4 million reconstruction.

Portland and the Maine Department of Transportation plan to widen the entrance ramps at Exit 7 and redesign part of Franklin Street, a broad thoroughfare that serves as a primary gateway to the downtown.

Traffic engineers hope the improvements will ease traffic jams and lower the likelihood of crashes in the area. The new design also aims to improve pedestrian crossings and add bicycle lanes.

“The goal is to significantly reduce congestion and make it safer,” Public Works Director Chris Branch said.

 

Changes include lengthening the northbound exit and approach ramps, and adding travel lanes to improve the flow of traffic getting on and off I-295 at Exit 7, according to a project description. The traffic signal at the intersection of the northbound off-ramp and Franklin Street – a frequent bottleneck – may be upgraded as part of the project.

The nearby intersection of Marginal Way and Franklin Street will be renovated to add a 50-foot-wide crosswalk near the Bayside Trail crossing.

Travel lanes will be added to Franklin Street and Marginal Way and bicycle travel lanes will be installed.

Portland will put up $4.2 million to reconstruct Franklin Street between Marginal Way and Somerset Street. The remaining $1.2 million will come from the Department of Transportation. Construction is expected to begin in 2020.

Portland’s City Council will take an initial vote Monday on an agreement with the transportation department for design and construction.

It’s not the first attempt to fix the intersection. Less than 10 years ago, in a similar effort to handle traffic and congestion, the Exit 7 interchange was widened and a stoplight was added on the northbound off-ramp. The MDOT spent almost $2 million.

But increased traffic from Portland’s rapid growth already has overwhelmed those improvements, said Ernie Martin, project director for the department. The state is contending with serious congestion on I-295 in Portland and north to Brunswick.

“Mobility is forever being challenged on the I-295 corridor,” Martin said.

The upcoming improvements should handle projected traffic volumes for at least the next 10 years, but there is no guarantee that growth won’t outpace capacity sooner than that, he added.

“It is always changing. You are dealing with congestion on all modes of transportation at peak times,” Martin said. “It is one of these crystal ball projects. You put your best foot forward and hope it will last.”

Although the redesign of the interchange is based on a 2015 master plan to overhaul Franklin Street, it is not the first phase of that project, Branch said.

Under the 2015 plan, the half-mile arterial that runs from the interstate to Portland’s waterfront would be slimmed down by eliminating the grassy median to open streetside properties for private development and open space.

Franklin Street, built in 1970, has been criticized for poor pedestrian access and for separating Portland’s eastern neighborhoods from downtown.

A complete reconstruction could cost at least $34.5 million, according to the master plan. That makes it far outside the city’s present financial reach, Branch said.

“It is a project we’d like to do in the future, but right now the funding isn’t available,” the city’s public works director said.

In the absence of wholesale redevelopment, the city will try to improve difficult intersections individually.

Last year, the city and the Department of Transportation wrapped up a multimillion-dollar redesign of Woodfords Corner, a complicated intersection on Forest Avenue, and a similar project is being considered at Morrill’s Corner, farther north on the same thoroughfare. The city also is planning improvements to the intersection of Franklin and Commercial streets, Branch said.

“We have to deal with the ones that are causing all the problems,” he said.

Peter McGuire can be reached at 791-6325 or at:

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