Cars zip by the median on Franklin Street Arterial in 2020, when Portland Parks and Recreation and Maine Audubon, with support from Portland Pollinators, put in 15 species of native wildflowers, grasses and ground covers to create a native meadow between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the heavily traveled roadway. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Portland City Council received a long-awaited update on a master plan to redesign Franklin Street Arterial – a major road that funnels traffic from Interstate 295 into downtown Portland.

The throughway was built in the 1960s as part of an urban renewal project that destroyed historic housing, displaced immigrant communities and separated the East Bayside neighborhood from Portland’s downtown.

On Monday night, Jeremiah Bartlett, the city’s transportation systems engineer, gave a presentation updating the council on the project, which was approved in 2015. Bartlett said that the city plans to apply for federal funding to aid in the cost of the redesign beginning in fall of 2024, and hopes to begin construction sometime between 2026 and 2030 contingent on funding.

The redesign approved in 2015 by a council comprising almost entirely different councilors – with the exception of Pious Ali – would make the area safer for bicyclists and pedestrians and create space to build housing. The plan would eliminate the grassy median on Franklin Street but maintain four lanes of traffic. Bike lanes and more pedestrian space would be put on either side of the road and a roundabout would be installed at the intersection of Franklin and Commercial streets.

Several councilors expressed support for the project on Monday, including April Fournier and Andrew Zarro. Fournier explained that she drives her children to work in the Old Port each day and is routinely “astonished” by how fast cars go on Franklin Street. She hopes the redesign will “make the space a little bit safer for humans in Portland to use, not just cars.”

Zarro described the redesign as a “once in a generation, transformational project.”


Councilor Mark Dion, however, expressed concern about the removal of the trees in the median and about the cost of the project.

Funding has been an obstacle since the redesign was approved in 2015, when the estimated cost was $22 million. Now, according to Nell Donaldson, director of special projects in the city, it’s difficult to estimate. For the next phase, which entails mapping out a detailed budget, applying for federal funding and nailing down the finer points of the project, Donaldson estimated the city will spend $250,000. This money would not come from the upcoming year’s budget, instead the city will tap accounts it has dedicated to infrastructure spending and – should the City Council approve it – a Village Partnership Agreement Fund, a program offered by the Maine Department of Transportation.

This rendering of the proposed redesign is from when the project was first approved in 2015. Planning is underway with a $250,000 budget. Work is not expected to begin until at least 2026. Rendering courtesy of the City of Portland

As for procuring federal funding to complete the project by 2030, Bartlett was confident that through a combination of federal grants and earmarks the necessary funding will be secured. “We certainly have friends in high places in Washington at this point,” he said.

The Franklin Street redesign project was started in 2009 with a dedicated neighborhood group, and since its inception the scope and primary goals of the project have shifted. What was once aimed primarily at making a crucial part of the city more walkable has evolved into a large-scale project that not only prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists but also affordable housing development along Franklin. Mayor Kate Snyder called the project as it stands today “certainly one of the most ambitious projects we’ve worked on,” but ultimately expressed support for it, praising in particular the opportunity to build more affordable housing.

Although the City Council approved the project in 2015, it did not approve a budget, simply the idea to reconstruct the arterial. The council will make funding decisions as the project unfolds.

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