PORTLAND, Maine — Expect to see road crews out in force over the coming months.
Last week, the city’s Department of Public Services began work on a $3 million effort to repave and make other improvements to 40 city streets, according to a City Hall press release.
The streets include five commuter routes — Baxter Boulevard, Eastern Promenade, International Parkway, Jetport Boulevard and Veranda Street — as well as 35 residential streets.
The work is an annual undertaking. But this year, the city has doubled funding for paving; previously, funding ranged from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
And DPS is taking a more scientific approach to guide its paving work. After surveying all of the city’s roughly 760 streets and roads, DPS has created a “pavement condition index” that grades asphalt condition on a 100-point scale.
The department has used the “updated” information and the new scale to make better decisions about which streets will be resurfaced, according to DPS Director Mike Bobinsky.
“In the past, we had to make choices not necessarily based on data,” he said. “We needed more detail, we needed a new platform of information.”
Bobinsky said DPS is targeting streets with ratings of about 50-60, which represent pavement conditions that are poor enough to require immediate repair, but not so bad that the street has to be entirely rebuilt.
“We want to maintain what we have, so streets don’t have to be reconstructed,” he said, pointing out that the cost of reconstructing a street can be 10 times the cost of repaving.
The increased paving may mean an increase in detour signs, and comes at a time when driving around Portland is already especially challenging.
Traffic is being rerouted to accommodate construction projects throughout the city. They include the Baxter Boulevard stormwater conduit installation, the renovation of the Cumberland County Civic Center, and the building of a Hyatt Place hotel at Fore and Union streets.
And with the start of the busy summer tourist season, one might wonder if a “perfect storm” of traffic gridlock is in the forecast. That was the worry of one Portland visitor on Saturday.
“I can’t believe this traffic,” Philadelphia resident Marilyn Griffith said from her car, stopped near construction in the Old Port. “This reminds me of Philly. I can only imagine it’s going to get worse when the summer starts.”
But Bobinsky isn’t worried. He said DPS collaborates with utility companies, construction contractors, and any parties who need to alter traffic in Portland.
Sometimes, work has to be expedited. That was the case with Unitil, the natural gas company now replacing lines under some downtown streets. The utility has been given a deadline of May 31 to finish its work.
In other cases, the solution requires creative thinking.
“We try to be mindful of all the users of our [street] system,” Bobinsky said. “Sometimes we have to say, ‘What’s another way do to this?'”
The goal, he said, is to minimize the disruption for everyone while still making appropriate investments in the city’s infrastructure.
“There has to be a balance, and I think we’re striking that. … I think it will still be possible to navigate around the city quite successfully.”