PORTLAND, Maine — Residents attending a public meeting Thursday evening at the University of Southern Maine had no shortage of complaints regarding the six-way intersection of Deering Avenue, Brighton Avenue and Falmouth Street.
The intersection has been the subject of a number of meetings seeking public comment on five proposed alternatives to the current throughway. The meeting Thursday was the last opportunity for residents to weigh in before city staff make recommendations for changes.
“We’re going to try to make it simpler, safer and more efficient,” said Marty Kennedy, a traffic consultant with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., a firm hired by the city to assess the intersection.
With 25 accidents occurring in the intersection between 2007 and 2009, the accident rate for the intersection is 17 percent higher than intersections with similar levels of traffic flow, which has led the Maine Department of Transportation to designate the crossroads a high-crash location.
“From a traffic operations perspective, it’s extremely inefficient,” said Kennedy. “It takes a long time to process traffic through that intersection, and it’s also very difficult for pedestrians to move around.”
Vanasse Hangen Brustlin has proposed five alternative designs for the intersection, three of which include one or more roundabouts in the area. Three preferred alternatives were discussed at the Thursday meeting, two of which included installation of a roundabout in the place of a six-way signal.
“The thing about roundabouts is it would keep traffic moving evenly at slower speeds,” Kennedy said. “With roundabouts, it actually changes the psyche of the motorist. Motorists will expect to travel slower, they will expect to see pedestrians and bicyclists and they will feel better about letting people in and out of side streets.”
Kennedy said the speed limit going through the roundabout ideally would be set at 15 mph.
USM has pledged $250,000 toward the project, a contribution that was a condition of the university’s construction of the Osher Map Library on Bedford Street in 2007.
The remainder of the funding has not yet been allocated, though it most likely will come from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, which blends state and federal funds and allocates them to area transportation projects.
“It’s not like there’s a pot of money waiting to fund this project,” said City Councilor Ed Suslovic. “The money from USM might not even cover the full design costs.”
Suslovic said the project costs are estimated at between $1.5 million and $2 million.
Pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists who use the often confusing and hectic intersection may have to wait for relief. Design work from the project will take place throughout 2013, after which the project will go to bid. Suslovic said the earliest construction will start is 2016.
“We got the Olympics this summer in London,” Suslovic said. “The next summer Olympics will be going on when we start this project.”