PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The City Council unanimously approved a plan Monday to improve traffic flow on Congress Street.
Congress Street is the main artery that runs across the peninsula from east to west and it's also the state's busiest transit corridor.
All eight of the Metro lines run on Congress, plus two of South Portland's buses and one bus from the Old Orchard Beach area.
The process began with a study back in 2009. That study recommended creating a Congress Street Bus Priority Corridor from Franklin Street to State Street. In 2011 and 2012, the city carried out a federally-funded study to explore creating the corridor.
The consulting team was originally looking at broad circulation changes to the downtown street system, but they heard concerns from residents and businesses, and emergency responders.
They settled on a scaled back version of the plan that would eliminate three bus stops and move two others. Five of the busiest bus stops will get new shelters. Two traffic signals will be removed. Senior planner Bill Needleman says the traffic lights at Brown Street and Casco Street are unnecessary.
"Those traffic signals really serve no purpose because they're at intersections where one way streets both leave Congress Street, so there is no cross traffic at those intersections, so the signals have no purpose as traffic signals," Needleman said. "They do function for pedestrian crossings. So with removal of the traffic lights it does put emphasis on the need to create a quality pedestrian experience."
To make those intersections safe for pedestrians, the city plans to put enhanced crosswalks in.
The full cost of the project is estimated at 428 thousand dollars. The city anticipates getting federal funding to cover 100 thousand dollars of that cost.
Needlman says work on the bus stop improvements should begin this summer or fall. The traffic lights at Casco and Brown Streets won't be removed until those crosswalks are enhanced, but with tonight's vote those lights will probably change to flashing yellows in the next few days.