Update: The League of Young Voters has sent out an action alert, asking members to call Governor Baldacci (287-3531) and hold his administration's highway planners accountable (a sample call script is below)
"Doesn't the Gov. want to promote energy independence? Blocking willing pedestrians with chain link fences and threatening their safety with unmarked street crossings next to the Park and Ride lot is not the way we would suggest promoting efficiency."
Last month, the Portland City Council passed a resolution calling for the Maine DOT to include basic pedestrian safety facilities when it widened Exit 7 at the junction of Franklin Street and Marginal Way. Exit 7, you may recall, is a long-planned trail connection between Bayside and Back Cove under I-296, the state-owned traffic sewer that monopolizes valuable waterfront real estate.
Traffic levels are still flat, and Augusta is still billions of dollars short of being able to do basic road repair for most of the state. But the Maine Department of Transportation is nevertheless STILL shoving forward a multi-million dollar freeway widening here. It recently released plans for construction, and intends to take bids from construction firms beginning on Wednesday.
Last month, the Portland City Council passed a resolution that this project would include basic sidewalks and crosswalks for pedestrians to negotiate their way between the busy Park and Ride Lot, the new developments on Marginal Way, and the Back Cove Trail. A trail connection between Marginal Way and Back Cove at this location has been called for in the City's Comprehensive Plan since 1990.
Also last month, Federal Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood declared "the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized."
"We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. [source]
But Augusta's construction drawings conspicuously omit any pedestrian safety measures in defiance of local elected officials and these new federal policies (not to mention basic common sense).
The plans would only build a short, 8' wide sidewalk under the freeway overpasses themselves. This sidewalk wouldn't be connected to the Back Cove Trail or the Marginal Way sidewalk. Quite the opposite: MDOT is actually going to spend a few thousand taxpayer dollars on not one but two chain-link fences to prevent anyone from using the sidewalk (at least until volunteers from the neighborhood "repair" the fences themselves).
This sidewalk would not have any lighting. It would be a narrow, dark alley squeezed next to speeding freeway traffic. Remember, they're calling this a "safety improvement".
MDOT is also refusing to build any crosswalks between the Park and Ride lot and adjacent sidewalks on the other side of Franklin Street and Marginal Way.
The plans do allow for future crosswalks to be built, someday. But they are conspicuously labeled "BY OTHERS," meaning that the State of Maine is refusing to pay for them. Instead, local Portland taxpayers will have to pay the bill to clean up MDOT's mess.
I find it pretty incredible that a few unelected bureaucrats in Augusta feel entitled to defy local elected officials so brazenly. Is Portland's City Council really going to take this?
Update: The League of Young Voters has sent out an action alert: "Can you make some time today to put in a quick phone call to the Governor and let him know what his administration is up to? The office's number is 287-3531. "
Here's a sample call script, written by local activist Steve Scharf:
Hello my name is ________ and I am calling about MDOT's plans for the I-295 Exit 7 in Portland project. I am appalled that after the public and the City of Portland has made it clear that they want a fully functioning, well-lit, 10' wide trail connection with crosswalks, that the bid is going out with no crosswalks and two chain link fences to block access between Back Cove and Marginal Way.
Please pull this bid document back and add the requirements to make this a fully usable trail connection in the city of Portland.
Again my name is _______________________, my phone is ____________ and my email is ___________. Thank you for taking my concerns into consideration.