The Cushing’s Point Transportation Study will encompass driving, walking, biking and public transit options in the busy Broadway corridor between Mill Creek and Bug Light Park in South Portland. Contributed / PACTS

The Greater Portland Council of Governments thinks it’s possible to improve traffic flow along the congested Broadway corridor in South Portland, but it will take many small changes rather than a few big ones.

“There isn’t a silver bullet,” South Portland City Planner Milan Nevajda said this week.

That was the overall message of the council’s findings so far, presented at a meeting of the South Portland Transportation Commission Monday night. The meeting was part of a year-long effort that started in October 2020 to figure out how to ease the traffic burden on the city’s busiest street. The study is also exploring whether establishing some sort of passenger ferry service between Portland and South Portland would be a good idea.

Officials stressed this week that the study is only providing recommendations, and it is up to the South Portland City Council to decide whether or not to implement any of the council’s ideas.

Obvious solutions, such as widening Broadway to accommodate more vehicles, are not feasible, Nevajda said.

“It’s built out, with very little capacity for expansion,” he said.

One council suggestion is for a roundabout at the Sawyer Street intersection with Broadway. Other suggestions were for subtler changes, such as improving sidewalks and crosswalks on smaller streets that connect with Broadway.

Greater Portland Council of Governments Regional Transportation Planner Andrew Clark said this week that such changes would be simpler and easier to implement than an involved reconstruction of Broadway itself.

“This kind of infrastructure is relatively cheap,” he said.

The idea of adding more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly upgrades to existing neighborhood streets is something the city is already interested in doing, Nevajda said. The city council has approved what the city is calling the Complete Streets initiative. For decades, Nevajda said,  the city has designed its streets based on two models: Either a heavy industrial road to accommodate large trucks, or basic, no-frills two-lane roadways. That kind of thinking, he said, needs to change, with existing streets updated to include upgrades similar to what GPCOG is recommending.

“I think it’s the right direction to go,” he said.

Clark also mentioned the city’s Greenbelt Pathway, a 5.6-mile stretch of walking/bicycle paths. Nearly two-thirds of the greenbelt runs parallel to Broadway, from Breakwater Drive, near Bug Light Park, to Broadway’s intersection with Evans Street. Finding ways to link pedestrian and bicycle crossings between the Greenbelt and Broadway, he said, would lead to less vehicle traffic on Broadway itself.

“The Greenbelt pathway, I think, is a tremendous asset,” he said.

Other suggestions include upgraded bus service on Broadway to lessen travel time and offer connections with other modes of transportation. To fix traffic congestion on Broadway, Clark said, it makes sense to focus on improving the flow of buses.

“If a bus has 30 people on it, doesn’t it seem right that that vehicle has a priority?” he said.

Various other traffic-related studies have touching on the city in the past, Nevajda said, but the current study represents the most targeted and comprehensive look so far at traffic problems on Broadway and how to fix them.

“We needed something that would bind it all together,” Nevajda said.

The 2018 Smart Corridor Study, which examined traffic issues along a 7-mile corridor connecting Portland and South Portland, included a sampling of traffic data collected over a 48-hour period in May 2017 on Broadway east of Sawyer Street. The data showed an average count of 13,200 vehicles per day. At peak hours in the morning, the study reported as many as 890 vehicles per hour – and evening peak hours were even heavier, with 1,090 vehicles per hour.

The idea of establishing marine transit, most likely in the form of a ferry between South Portland and Portland, remains a concept intriguing enough to keep studying, but Clark and Nevajda both agreed that it alone could not solve Broadway’s traffic problems.

A ferry service based next to Bug Light Park, the study found, places the terminal within reach of many local residents, with an estimated 13,400 people living within a 7.5-minute drive. Still, the study found, such a service would function as “an amenity,” and is not expected to have an impact on Broadway traffic.

That said, Nevajda said this week that such a service could work, and would become more valuable if the Eastern Port area, formerly known as Liberty Shipyard, became built up, especially with businesses. Such development is possible, he said, given the property owners, possibly spurred by federal grants, have expressed interest in building there.

“Then you’ve got this major destination developing on the eastern port,” Nevajda said.

GPCOG is expected to present its final report and recommendations in October.

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