Major planned I-95 construction in southern Maine likely to cause headaches for years

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A pair of major road projects will likely complicate travel on Interstate 95 in southern Maine for the next few years even as a record number of drivers are expected to be using the highway.

Starting next spring, the Maine Department of Transportation will undertake a three-year, $30 million project to resurface the six-lane Piscataqua River Bridge, the main interstate artery to and from the state.

At roughly the same time, the Maine Turnpike Authority will build a new toll plaza in York, about 9 miles north of the bridge. That $40 million project is on the same three-year construction schedule.

Officials from Maine DOT and the Turnpike Authority say they have plans in place to minimize travel disruption, but acknowledge there are likely to be some traffic headaches.

“With a project like this and the amount of traffic we have, we realize there is going to be impacts,” said Heath Cowan, a project manager for TY Lin International, a engineering firm hired to help Maine develop its construction plan.

Maine transportation authorities plan to keep the normal three lanes of traffic in both directions open between Memorial Day and mid-October, when the bridge has more vehicles carrying summer visitors to Maine.

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But for most of the year, one lane of traffic in both directions will be closed, so workers can fix issues in the concrete bridge deck, repave and install new waterproof membrane.

Even when all travel lanes are open, drivers will still be moving through an active work site.

“Three lanes in a construction zone is not exactly like three lanes with no construction,” Cowan said.

The turnpike authority will keep all travel lanes near the toll plaza open year-round. But in conjunction with the bridge work, issues could develop, spokeswoman Erin Courtney said.

“In April and May, it could be an issue if traffic is up as it has been, people will see delays,” Courtney said.

MORE TRAFFIC

Traffic on the Maine Turnpike keeps breaking monthly and yearly records.

During this past Labor Day weekend, the agency recorded more than 1.1 million transactions, a growth of about 5 percent over the same time in 2017, according to preliminary turnpike estimates.

The number of toll transactions, about 32.2 million as of June, is up more than 6 percent over last year at the same time, according to turnpike records.

“Every year just keeps becoming the new record,” Courtney said.

Turnpike officials did not plan to build the new plaza at the same time as bridge maintenance work, but construction was put off because of a lawsuit by opponents of the new plaza to overturn a environmental permit, she said.

A Maine judge in July upheld the permit, allowing the authority to start construction of an open-road tolling and traditional cash toll booth plaza about a mile and a half north of the current toll booths. Preliminary work on the plaza is expected to start this fall.

A contract for work on the Piscataqua River Bridge is expected to go out to bid in a couple months, and construction should begin in the spring, said Wayne Frankhauser, head of the bridge program for Maine Department of Transportation said.

About 74,000 vehicles a day drive across the bridge, but on busy summer weekends traffic volume nearly doubles to 130,000 vehicles a day, according to state statistics.

BRIDGE’S SIZE COMPLICATES PROJECT

Resurfacing the bridge deck and replacing traffic barriers is normal bridge maintenance, but the scale of the Piscataqua bridge makes the work more complex, Frankhauser said.

The structure, including approach spans in Maine and New Hampshire, is almost a mile long and the center span sits 135 feet above the Piscataqua River.

“With this bridge, it’s sheer size, it makes it much more complicated than the average project,” Frankhauser said. “It is the primary way into the state, everything that comes into the state leaves over this bridge; it is absolutely vital.”

Construction of the bridge was completed in 1973, and it has an expected lifespan of 100 years.

The cost of the bridge maintenance will be split between Maine and New Hampshire with a smaller amount paid by the Maine Turnpike for some work done near Kittery.

 

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