A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

ACTION ALERT: Call Rep. Pingree to Save Pedestrian Access to Back Cove!

The Maine League of Young Voters has just sent out a new action alert with a focus on including pedestrian and bike access through the Exit 7 underpass, between Franklin Street and the Back Cove Park. This connection has been called for in city Comprehensive Plans since the 1980s, and is a high-priority "missing link" in Portland's trail and sidewalks network.

Unfortunately, the Maine DOT engineers in Augusta - people who rarely drive through this intersection, and have never walked through it - have decided, by bureaucratic fiat, to block pedestrian access at this location by widening the freeway off-ramps, allegedly for "safety" purposes.

To be fair, the Maine DOT is proposing some positive steps: adding a traffic light at the end of the northbound on-ramp (at the 'd' in Bayside in the birds-eye view below), for instance, would give pedestrians a safe place to cross the offramps. And, although it's probably not the best use for the Maine DOT's rapidly-dwindling funds, I have no beef with adding another lane to the northbound ramps, which wouldn't affect pedestrian access and would give cars a place to rest while they wait for the light.

But there's no need to add another lane to the southbound ramp (the one that curves along Back Cove), which is nearly 1/2 a mile long and never has traffic congestion issues. The Maine DOT keeps on citing an arbitrary prediction of 30% traffic growth, which will supposedly neccessitate the extra lane. But in the past 20 years, there's been no measureable growth in traffic here - roughly the same number of cars come through here today as in 1985.

So now that gas is headed towards $4 a gallon and GM and Chrysler are bankrupt - now Augusta expects thousands of additional cars to materialize here? That's baloney, but unless we make a lot more noise, this stale lunchmeat will be forced down our gullets, with a lot more traffic to go along with it, at a cost of $2 million to you, the taxpayer. Building the safe, well-lit sidewalk that the city actually needs, instead of an extraneous highway lane, would cut the project's bill in half.

Portlanders sent a lot of grassroots complaints about the Maine DOT's spendthrift bullheadedness this past winter. In fact, I'm pretty confident that Exit 7 may have been a tipping-point issue in the Legislature's ultimate decision not to raise the state's gas tax this summer, as a few key legislators were forced to ask themselves why they should divert tens of millions of dollars away from Mainers' disposable incomes, just to prop up the DOT's Circus of Whimsical Asphalt Fantasias.

But now, we need some top-down pressure on the DOT. The $2 million that Augusta plans to spend on this widening project would come from a federal earmark approved in 2005, at the behest of Rep. Tom Allen. Now that Rep. Chellie Pingree has taken over that seat, she's in the best position to hold the Maine DOT accountable. After all, what's the point in her fighting for funding in Washington if the Maine DOT is just going to piss it away on projects like this one?

So here's your chance to hold these renegade bureaucrats accountable for once: call Rep. Pingree today. She and her staff are friendly and want to hear from you, but more importantly, if we can muster a few dozen phone calls, our chances of getting a safe pedestrian connection to Back Cove and saving a cool $1 million in the process will be much, much better.

Here's a sample script that you might want to use as a guideline, but feel free to riff with personal stories about walking and biking in greater Portland, and the importance of this connection:

-- 207-774-5019 --

"Hello, this is a message for Chellie Pingree. My name is ________ and I live in [City, ME.] I'm calling to express concerns over how the Maine DOT is planning to spend our federal earmarks to expand the freeway ramps on Exit 7, without providing adequate pedestrian access between Bayside and Back Cove. Some elements of their plan - like adding a new traffic light and crosswalks - are moving in the right direction. But their plan to widen the southbound off-ramp, thus blocking pedestrian access to Back Cove Park, goes against our state's goals for energy independence, fiscal responsibility, and reducing pollution. Please encourage the Maine Department of Transportation to spend some of the money from the federal government on sustainable transportation alternatives for our future, not more highway!"

Also important: let us know if you called, either by sending a quick note to Katie at the League office in Portland or by leaving a comment here.

1 comment:

Festoonic said...

Done. Thanks for the alert.

The intern at Pingree's Portland office couldn't tell me anything -- chances are this project hasn't even come across Pingree's radar yet, and probably wouldn't at all but for whatever phone calls against it are generated here and elsewhere -- but her vote against war appropriations was heartening, wasn't it?