2017-02-24 / Front Page

South Portland southbound

You CAN get there from here
By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

An overhead shot of the Exit 4 area of Interstate 295, shows where South Portland officials hope a new venture with the Maine Department of Transportation will result in a southbound on-ramp. (Paul Conley courtesy photo) An overhead shot of the Exit 4 area of Interstate 295, shows where South Portland officials hope a new venture with the Maine Department of Transportation will result in a southbound on-ramp. (Paul Conley courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — Anyone who has ever tried to access the southbound lanes on Interstate 295 from South Portland knows the frustration of fighting traffic. From the historic villages on the eastern parts of the city, and Cape Elizabeth beyond, it’s a cross-town slog to get to the Maine Mall or through downtown Portland, and all the stop-and-go congestion that entails, just to head to any point south.

But all that may soon change.

At the Wednesday Feb. 22 South Portland City Council meeting, councilors were due to vote on taking $35,000 from the city’s undesignated fund balance to pay for a preliminary engineering study to be done in partnership with the Maine Department of Transportation, for adding a new southbound entrance to I-295 at in the Exit 4 area.

That vote took place after the deadline for this week’s Sentry, but Councilor Maxine Beecher was confident the measure would pass.

“I’ve been in favor of doing something like this for as long as I’ve been on the council,” she said on Tuesday. “It is something that is very much needed, not just to ease congestion in the city, and, quite frankly, I have to tell you, our streets take a terrible beating every day, but for simple safety.

“I have nothing against the giant gas and oil tankers that move through the city every day, but it only makes sense to get them on the highway and away from city traffic as soon as possible in their commutes,” she said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

According to interim City Manager Don Gerrish, the new on-ramp has been a priority for South Portland for many years, and was first proposed in an I-295 corridor study published in 2010.

“The purpose of this project would be to improve mobility by providing South Portland residents, visitors and businesses with access to I-295/95 southbound,” he wrote in a memo to the council. “The improved interchange would also reduce the volume of traffic, especially heavy trucks, through Cash Corner, which is a high crash location and chronically congested.”

Gerrish said former city manager Jim Gailey opened discussions on the project with the Maine Department of Transportation in April 2014.

“That resulted in a mobility and safety analysis that is required to justify the need for access to the Federal Highway Administration before a project could be funded,” he said. “Maine DOT and South Portland also agreed that, given the purpose of this project and likely localized benefits compared to other transportation benefits, any future capital project would likely require a local and/or Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS) contribution.”

According to a PACTS study completed last year, traffic along I-295 showed steady growth from 1981 until about 2005 at which point traffic volumes fluctuated, declining by approximately 8,000 vehicles per day from 2005 to 2010. Since then, traffic volumes have begun to resume the upward trend, reaching a new peak of 67,000 vehicles in 2014.

Traffic volumes along the turnpike connector, Broadway and Route 1 have also fluctuated from 1981 to 2014 with the turnpike connector being the only route that has shown a fairly steady growth in this time span, according to the report. The volumes along all South Portland connecting points to I-295 are similar, ranging from 10,000 to 22,000 vehicles per day. That, MDOT says, is about 80 percent of the total vehicle capacity for those areas during the p.m. commute.

On a daily basis, heavy vehicles account for an estimated 5 percent of the traffic on I-295 at Exit 4, and 6 percent of the traffic passing through Cash Corner, according to the study, while heavy vehicles represent 2 percent of the afternoon/ evening peak-hour traffic at the three existing highway intersections.

Crash data was collected by PACTS at several intersections in the I-295 Southbound Exit 4 area from 2011 to 2013. The intersections of Broadway at Main Street and Route 1 at the turnpike connector had the highest number of crashes within that three-year period, with 33 crashes at Broadway and 28 at the connector.

According to MDOT, a high crash location is defined as a spot that has eight or more crashes and a “critical rate factor” of greater than 1.0 in a three-year period. MDOT’s safety analysis assigned a 1.1 critical rate factor to the intersection of Broadway and Main Street, at Lincoln Street.

According to the PACTS study, the best means of reducing crashes and traffic congestion – about 2.5 minutes per car, per trip, it says – would be to convert the two-lane, one-way bridge over the interstate to two-lane, two-way traffic. This would require the installation of a new, two-phase signal at this interchange intersection, allowing Route 1 northbound traffic to enter the I-295 southbound on-ramp.

Signalizing Exit 4 would also require some construction to realign the Route 1 bridge approach, eliminating the southbound Veterans Memorial Bridge channelized approach, and re-striping the bridge and Route 1 approach to the bridge to provide for two-way traffic. The I-295 southbound Exit 4 off-ramp approach would be signalized with a right-turn-on-red prohibition. Vehicles on Route 1 would be able to access I-295 south by crossing the bridge and turning left at the new intersection onto the southbound on-ramp. Vehicles from the Veterans Memorial Bridge would still be able to access Route 1 by turning left onto the bridge at the signal.

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