The Maine DOT is once again proving its bona fides as a bullheaded, 1950s-era highways agency with its plans to widen and expand Exit 7, Portland's northern gateway to the soon-to-be-redeveloped Franklin Arterial.
For over 20 years, Portland's Comprehensive Plans have called for a sidewalk and trail connection between Marginal Way and Back Cove Park. This connection would give low-income residents of Kennedy Park and others in East Bayside access to the waterfront from which the freeway has cut them off since the 1970s. It would also serve as a shorter, more convenient route to the Hannaford supermarket, the USM campus, and other destinations on the other side of I-295, and it would link to the Bayside Promenade Trail, which is now under construction:
But Augusta is overstepping its bounds (and its financial means) with its proposal to widen the southbound off-ramp at the expense of bike/ped access. Maine DOT would like to widen the road to add another lane, a move that would only be neccessary under their assumption that traffic will increase by 30% in the next 20 years.
To put that figure in context, here's how much traffic growth the area saw in the past 20 years - two decades of $1/gallon gasoline and the most economic growth of any period in American history - from Maine DOT's own data:
Looks to me like traffic growth in the past 20 years has been something close to 0%. But now that the City's implementing a plan to reduce car traffic, GM and Chrysler are bankrupt, and gas is heading back up towards $3 a gallon and beyond, now Maine DOT predicts that thousands of more cars are going to materialize, and so we need to spend $4 million on a highway widening "for safety purposes."
This is also an agency that would like to raise taxes by $80 million in a recession because it allegedly can't afford to maintain the roads and bridges we already have.
An agency that's focused on fiscal responsibility, minimizing the costs of Mainers' transportation, and improving the safety of everyone would embrace a scaled-back project that improves motorist safety while also providing low-cost bike/ped access, at half the cost.