A reconfiguration of the Maine Mall exit from the Maine Turnpike won’t eliminate a penny-pinchers’ detour that saves some northbound drivers a little toll money.

Motorists can use Exit 44 on the Maine Turnpike to get directly onto Interstate 295 north, but it comes at a cost of $1 for those paying tolls with cash. Locals have long known, however, that if they drive on for a minute or two and leave the turnpike for The Maine Mall at Exit 45, they can get on I-295 north there, exiting the turnpike without an additional toll.

Maine Turnpike officials announced this week that they are beginning their $28 million rebuild of Exit 45, which involves a new, higher overpass above the turnpike and the relocation of entry roads and toll plazas. The goal, they said, is to handle anticipated increases in traffic at the heavily used interchange and raise the overpass, which has been hit by some higher-profile vehicles.

Some drivers worried that the rebuild would eliminate the money-saving route to I-295 via the Maine Mall exit by adding another toll to mirror the one at Exit 44, but turnpike officials said that won’t be the case.

The actual savings, however, is a more confusing issue, said Erin Courtney, the turnpike authority’s spokeswoman.

For those paying cash, the savings are clear, because those drivers who use the Maine Mall exit to get onto I-295 will continue to avoid the $1 fee at Exit 44. Courtney said the toll is similar to the one charged in Gardiner, where southbound drivers face a similar fee to exit the turnpike and get on I-295.

The goal of both fees, she said, is to ease congestion on I-295 and encourage drivers to stay on the turnpike.

Turnpike planners knew about the Maine Mall workaround, she said, and have made a conscious decision to leave it, both during previous construction projects and in the current rebuilding of Exit 45.

“It was a way to keep people on the turnpike and also a way to get more money from out-of-staters,” she said, since those coming to Maine from away were less likely to know about the Maine Mall workaround.

But for E-ZPass users, there are no savings.

E-ZPass fees are based on miles traveled on the turnpike, Courtney said, although they are designed to be much lower than the tolls that cash-paying drivers face. So drivers with E-ZPass don’t actually pay an additional toll when they use Exit 44 to go from the turnpike directly onto 295, she said.

There are readers built into the toll plazas at Exit 45, she said, that are used to figure out the fee for E-ZPass users, even though those drivers may not realize it because they don’t have to stop or slow down as they exit. That means there’s no savings in the Maine Mall bypass route for northbound drivers who use the electronic toll-paying system.

For instance, a driver with E-ZPass taking the turnpike from Saco to I-295 who enters I-295 directly via Exit 44 would pay 65 cents, and a cash-paying driver would pay $2 – one when getting on the turnpike, and the other at the exit.

Drivers with E-ZPass going from Saco to I-295 via Exit 45 would end up paying a total of 70 cents because the mall exit is slightly farther, and the cash-paying driver would end up paying only the initial $1.

Courtney said that if the turnpike is ever able to go to a fully electronic system, such disparities would be eliminated, and all drivers would be charged per mile.

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