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

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The New Veterans Bridge

A design/build team of Reed and Reed construction, a local Maine company, and T.Y. Lin International, a global civil engineering firm, has been tentatively selected to replace the Veterans Memorial Bridge between the West End of Portland and the Maine Mall area of South Portland.

The details are still scanty, but the new bridge is almost certain to be a huge improvement for bike riders and pedestrians who would like to make the three-mile trip between the Mall area and downtown Portland. It will create a pleasant and safe new crossing point between the two cities. But the new bridge, in a new alignment, also has the potential to dramatically simplify and calm traffic at the southwestern gateway to the Portland peninsula.

Here's what the area looks like now:

Those green dotted lines are the existing sidewalks in the area, and white dotted lines indicate crosswalks. There's a sidewalk on the bridge, but it dead-ends on a freeway offramp on the South Portland side. There's also the Fore River waterfront trail, which is little-used right now - its northern end leads to a freeway off-ramp and its southern end leads into the nightmarish intersection of the bridge with Valley and Commercial Streets.

This junction is a half-acre field of pavement, so vast that it's hard to see the other side. There are a full twenty lanes coming into and out of it, and it's a huge source of confusion for everyone who gets sucked into it. The truck in this Google Street View provides a good, unintentional commentary on how safe this place is:

View Larger Map

Fortunately, the word from reliable sources indicates that the new bridge design from T.Y. Lin would dramatically simplify and shrink this intersection by bypassing it entirely. Again, details are scanty, but here's a rough sketch of their proposal:

Instead of replacing the bridge in its current location, which leads into the Tombstone junction clusterfuck, T. Y. Lin is proposing to lead the new bridge into a new T-junction with Fore River Parkway, near the new Mercy Hospital campus. A new, 12' wide bicycle and pedestrian trail on the bridge would link to existing sidewalks and a little-used dead-end spur of the Fore River Trail south of Mercy Hospital. The word is that the bridge itself will also include bumped-out viewing platforms along its length, which would commemorate veterans, and that its length would be illuminated with human-scaled streetlamps (as opposed to freeway floodlights).

The realignment will save a lot of money, since the new bridge would be slightly shorter and allow the builders to work while the old bridge remains in service. But once the new bridge is open, there will also be an opportunity to reduce lanes and calm traffic at the junction of Commercial and Valley Streets, which will go from an awkward four-way intersection to a three-way T-junction. The five lanes leading to and from the old bridge will disappear, and turn into a park. But three additional turn lanes leading from Valley, Commercial, and Fore River Parkway would also become obsolete, making room for median pedestrian refuges, or larger sidewalks.

One of those lanes - the long, right-turn slip lane from Fore River Parkway to the old bridge - could be retrofitted as a new sidewalk on the south side of the railroad overpass. This conversion would significantly reduce the city's long-term maintenance costs on this smaller bridge, and create continuous sidewalks on both sides of the Fore River Parkway between Valley Street and the new Mercy Hospital campus.

More detailed bridge designs should be available soon, and some elements are still open to tweaking. A public hearing on the proposed design will probably happen in February or early March, so that final designs can be completed for construction in the spring. Stay tuned.


Corey Templeton said...

Thanks for sharing this, the new alignment makes a lot of sense. Can't wait to see it in action.

John said...

Thanks, Christian! Nice work on the graphics. We've linked to this from the Bike Commuting Meetup.