PORTLAND — It’s going to be a long, hot summer for drivers on Interstate 295.
State transportation officials Monday said bridge repairs on the northbound corridor of I-295 will require traffic pattern changes likely to result in significant travel delays.
But the Maine Department of Transportation is applying lessons learned from last year’s southbound work on I-295, which has spilled over into this construction season. The department hopes those lessons will reduce the impacts around Tukey’s Bridge.
They include creating a shorter work zone, maintaining two open lanes of traffic during the day, regulating Exit 7 traffic entering the interstate, and closing off northbound access to and from Washington Avenue.
But even with those changes, Joyce Taylor, director of the DOT’s Bureau of Project Development, said she expects the $24 million project will create some travel headaches for visitors and commuters.
“We know this will cause some pain,” Joyce said. “We’re not trying to sugarcoat that.”
The bridge work, which is expected to support 270 jobs, is one of several planned along I-295 from Scarborough to Yarmouth.
In Portland, Tukey’s Bridge and the Washington Avenue, Sherwood Street, Canadian National Railway and Kensington Street overpasses will receive repairs to the concrete decking, have new membranes installed, joints replaced and be repaved.
Also, paving, guardrail and drainage improvements along the northbound corridor from Falmouth to Brunswick is expected to continue through mid-July.
Southbound bridge work left over from last summer between the Presumpscot River Bridge and the Fore River Bridge is continuing.
Matt McKenzie, vice president of marketing and public relations for AAA Northern New England, said motorists should be patient while the state conducts the road repairs.
“I’d like to ask that motorists observe work zone speed limits as they are commuting through the construction zones,” McKenzie said.
Taylor said the work should allow the state to fix the bridges without having to replace them.
But she said it is possible the bridges may be in worse shape than suggested by assessments using ground-penetrating radar, which could extend the project past its projected late-September conclusion.
To improve traffic flow during the bridge construction, DOT Bridge Program Manager David Sherlock said the agency is taking away certain “decision points” for drivers along the northbound lane.
Sherlock said northbound highway traffic will not be able to use the Washington Avenue off-ramp at Exit 8 and northbound Washington Avenue traffic will not be able to get on the interstate from Munjoy Hill, although those drivers will be able to continue on Washington to the East Deering neighborhood. Traffic from Baxter Boulevard will not be able to access I-295 northbound.
He said concrete barriers will be installed, perhaps as soon as this week, dividing Washington Avenue from I-295.
Sherlock said signs will alert northbound drivers to detour at Exit 6, Forest Avenue. Vehicles will then be directed to Washington Avenue via Ocean Avenue.
Traffic from Baxter Boulevard would have to access the northbound lanes at either Franklin Street/Exit 7 or Bucknam Road/Exit 10 in Falmouth.
Sherlock also said the DOT, for the first time, will install a temporary traffic light near the end of the Exit 7 northbound on-ramp to regulate traffic coming entering the interstate.
The signal will only allow short bursts of traffic to merge onto the interstate at once, he said.
Meanwhile, Taylor said, the northbound work zone will only be about a half mile long, as opposed to several miles of work on the southbound lanes.
Sherlock said the northbound traffic measures, which also call for the temporary installation of at least two Web cameras, were drafted in collaboration with city officials.
“We can’t entirely predict human behavior,” he said. “But we do believe we have come up with the best plan possible to reduce the impacts.”
Taylor said that computer models have predicted the northbound trip through Portland would only be increased by seven minutes, but hinted it could take longer, especially during the 4-6 p.m. evening commute.
“I’m hoping that’s true,” she said of the traffic models. “We’re trying to prevent the half-hour to hour delays. That’s truly unacceptable to folks driving.”
Taylor said the traffic patterns are complex and predicted they could change. The weather many also affect construction schedules.
She encouraged motorists to sign up for email alerts for the projects at the DOT website (mainedot.gov), which will also contain a link to traffic cameras.
Sherlock said incentives of $10,000 a day, up to $250,000, have been offered to contractors to finish the bridge project by Sept. 23. Conversely, the contractors will be charged a $10,000-a-day penalty if they go past that deadline.
Portland Public Services Director Mike Bobinsky had some advice for motorists who may become stuck in traffic while traveling through Portland this summer.
“Be patient, roll down the windows and enjoy the summer air,” he said.
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.