July 18, 2019
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Draft redesign includes narrowing Portland’s Franklin Street, opening space for new development

David Harry | The Forecaster
David Harry | The Forecaster
Alleviating traffic congestion at Franklin Street and Marginal Way is a critical aim of the redesign of Franklin Street in Portland.

PORTLAND, Maine — The road to a redesigned Franklin Street will not be fully charted until next spring, but the steps along the way were presented to about 100 people on Oct. 1 at the Portland Public Library.

“We need your input, how well did we hit the mark?” Markos Miller asked at the outset of the 90-minute workshop.

Miller, with City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, is the co-chairman of the Franklin Street Feasibility Study, moving through its second phase with a goal of having a preliminary design report and cost estimate completed no later than June 2015.

The study is considering how to improve the stretch of four-lane road that bisects the peninsula from Marginal Way to Commercial Street. The goal is to create a “vibrant, active and walkable urban corridor, connecting neighborhoods and destinations,” according to the study vision statement.

To achieve the goal based on a “complete streets” model of mixed uses, preliminary recommendations include reducing vehicle speeds to 25 mph from the 35 mph limit; reconnecting Somerset, Federal and Newbury streets; constructing a rotary at Franklin and Commercial streets; expanding Lincoln Park, and altering the intersection of Franklin Street and Marginal Way to alleviate traffic at Interstate 295.

Visitors were encouraged to post their thoughts about strengths and weaknesses of the plan elements, and committee members and consultants met after the workshop to review the input.

The 211-foot wide, 15-acre swath of the road and right of way was built about 45 years ago, through the heart of mixed-use neighborhoods, as a method of “slum clearance,” according to the Franklin Reclamation Authority.

Whether it gives the road an “urban street” or “urban parkway” look and feel, a new road would flow mostly over the existing median, opening some of the edges of the road to commercial development. Some lanes could be dedicated to public transportation use, including light rail.

Lane widths could be reduced from 26 feet to 22 feet, with more room given to bicycle lanes and sidewalks that do not exist. Depending on the width and course of the street, 50 to 80 feet of frontage could be added to Lincoln Park, which sits between Congress and Federal streets.

The study committee, comprised of neighborhood association leaders and representatives from business groups, nonprofits and city agencies, consults with city staff including Public Services Director Mike Bobinsky, members of the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, Gray-based traffic engineers Gorrill-Palmer, and the Boston office of global architects IBI Group.

Variables and contingencies remain within the preliminary recommendations made Oct. 1, including permission from the Maine Department of Transportation to reduce speeds.

Reducing congestion at the I-295/Marginal Way end of Franklin Street may be the most critical element to making the rest of the redesign work, Gorrill-Palmer traffic engineer Randy Dunton said.

“It was quickly apparent the bottlenecks for the corridor were at the Marginal Way end,” he said as he outlined rejected plans to shift I-295 ramps to Marginal Way, or to construct a rotary at the intersection.

The preliminary recommendation calls for converting the westbound lane on Marginal Way, so drivers could only make a right turn at Franklin Street. This would allow access to both directions of I-295, and it could allow longer green lights for vehicles passing through on Franklin Street.

Concurrent with redesigning Franklin Street are suggestions to improve or reopen parallel and cross streets, including reconnecting Wilmot and Pear streets between Somerset street and Marginal Way. The connection also could be used for shuttle bus service.

Intersections at Somerset, Federal and Newbury streets could be reopened, though not all as full cross streets. The study also depicts areas of commercial development on parking lots, while it was determined there would be no parking spots added on Franklin Street.


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