2018-08-24 / Front Page

Path planned

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Four years after first approving funds for a multi-use path linking the city’s Greenbelt Trail to Veterans Memorial Bridge, the project is finally getting underway.

At its Monday, Aug. 20 meeting, the South Portland City Council voted unanimously to have City Manager Scott Morelli sign a three-way agreement between the city, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS).

According to City Planner Tex Haeuser, that will kick-start engineering on the $1.36 million project for next year, with construction likely to follow in 2020.

The new trail link will start on Broadway, on the north side of the Greenbelt Trail near Evans Street, then go west 0.15 miles to Lincoln Street. It will then run a little more than half a mile along Lincoln Street to Billy Vachon Drive, the travel along Vachon one-quarter mile to the bridge on-ramp.

When the council first gave its nod to the concept, it was pegged as a $982,3000 project. With the delay came increased cost, including a corresponding kick to the city’s 25 percent local match.

Initially green lit as a $245,575 cost to South Portland, the jump in total cost has resulted in what Morelli called a “slight increase” to $341,550.

That 39 percent price hike seemed to trigger Councilor Susan Henderson.

“I think it’s a really expensive project and it frustrates me beyond belief that it takes four years to even start,” she said. “Part of my frustration is that it’s $400,000 more in delay costs.”

That time to shovels-in-the-ground could span six years was, which Henderson said was, “mind-boggling.”

“These transportation projects take a long time to go from application to implementation and construction,” Haeuser said. “This one is on the extra long side, I freely admit it.”

Asked by Henderson to explain the delay, Haeuser said it was partly due to the inclusion of reconstruction work along Lincoln to correct some drainage issues. But part of the delay came down to South Portland bailing on the project, he said.

“It started off as a locally administered project that would have been done by the city, but we found that process to not be worth all of the extra work involved,” Haeuser said. “You have to get all of the same approvals from MDOT as if they were doing the project themselves.”

With that in mind, the city lobbied MDOT to let it off the hook and take on the work itself, which it eventually agreed to do.

Still, Henderson did not seem entirely satisfied as she questioned prioritizing a bicycle and pedestrian path over work needed on Cottage Road to make it safer for youngsters going to and from school.

However, Haeuser said it was Henderson’s role in lobbying for the Cottage Road work that “was the most significant factor” in prompting MDOT to “do something they almost never do” – namely bump up a project in the queue. In this case, he said, MDOT work on Cottage Road originally slated for 2021 will now be completed next year.

“That’s moving ahead faster than it otherwise would, thanks to your involvement,” Haeuser said.

To cover its new $341,550 cost, the council had already allocated $68,310 needed for preliminary design review costs in this year’s capital improvement projects budget. For the $273,240 balance, Morelli said he is working on a future amendment to the city’s tax increment financing (TIF) deal with Hannaford. Those edits will allow $250,000 to be taken from the TIF fund, which has a balance of about $737,000. The remaining $23,240 would come from the public works department’s paving budget, Morelli said

“The Hannaford TIF funds can only be used for capital project needs related to the associated district. Therefore, these funds could not be used on transportation projects on the eastern side of the city, such as on Cottage Road, because the bulk of the Hannaford Distribution Facility traffic is between Rumery Park/Cash Corner and the Maine Turnpike,” Morelli said.

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