This intersection, at Scarborough Downs Road and Payne Road, is one of 32 intersections slated for upgrades as part of a major traffic improvement project funding largely by the developers of the Downs property. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

A $13.5 million traffic improvement project funded and run largely by the developers of the Downs project in Scarborough promises to make driving through large swathes of town, and even part of South Portland, easier.

The proposed work, which includes upgrades at 32 intersections, is part of a permit application to the state Department of Transportation by the Downs’ developers, who along with town and state officials said this week that they expect the permit to be approved next month. The overall project is planned to take place over the next five years.

Randy Illian, a DOT traffic engineer for the region that includes Scarborough, said he can’t remember seeing a proposed traffic improvement project on this scale.

Exact costs at this point, including the $13.5 million working price tag, are still estimates, but the state is already prepared to help foot the bill. Illian said the state’s Business Partner Initiative may cover as much as $3 million. The town will likely pay for some of it, too, Town Planner Jay Chace said.

Subject to town council approval, the town could use $1.6 million already earmarked through traffic impact fees paid by other developers toward upgrade projects such as this one. The Downs developers, Chace said, will be paying for the rest.

The town, developers and state officials have been working out the project’s details for nearly two years, Chace said. Right now, he said, the town and Downs developers are looking at some last-minute tweaks, and expect to be sending the final version of the application to the state within two weeks.

Everyone, including Illian, said they expect to see the permit approved by mid-June. Then, individual parts of the overall project will begin, though it may take up to a year before drivers finally start seeing the changes happening.

Chace said this week that the planned upgrades will be on a large scale. The proposal may have been prompted, he said, by estimates that more than 3,000 vehicle trips to and from the property at peak times will be the norm when the Downs is fully developed.

The project, though, also includes solving traffic problems elsewhere in town, some that have needed work for years.

“It’s really part of the grand scheme of the project,” Chace said.

The project lists 32 intersections that will receive upgrades, including the entrances to the Downs property on Payne Road and Route 1, but also stretching as far north as the triangle of County Road, Gorham Road and Saco Street, right before the Gorham line. The project will also include intersections stretching north and east along Payne Road, reaching as far as the entrance to The Maine Mall at Best Buy in South Portland.

“It’s a very comprehensive set of transportation improvements,” said Dan Bacon, development director for the Downs project and principal architect of the proposed upgrades. “I’m not sure there’s ever been a permit like it.”

Bacon said the most common upgrades will be upgraded traffic lights using what is called adaptive signaling. The new signals will actually measure traffic passing underneath them, and adjust the pattern of light changes to accommodate heavier traffic flow in one direction. The result, Bacon said, is that traffic will flow more smoothly and efficiently.

Some upgrades, he said, will be more noticeable, such as a widening of Payne Road between Exit 42 and the intersection with Gorham Road, in front of the Shaw’s store. Other intersections may be redesigned to improve traffic flow, and he said sidewalks are planned for several parts of town.

The upgrades aren’t just about efficiency, however. Chace noted that some intersections, such as where Route 1 meets Black Point Road and Gorham Road, just down the street from Town Hall in the Oak Hill neighborhood, will get raised center islands. This is a critical safety upgrade, Chace said, which some intersections have needed for years.

“It restricts turning movements that are causing some of these intersections to be high-accident intersections,” he said.

Some data from the state Department of Transportation indicates a need for safer intersections in town. For example, the department’s website lists the Oak Hill intersection Chace mentioned as a “high crash location.” In a three-year period, from 2018-2020, according to the department, 15 crashes reported there. No fatalities are listed, but the crashes did result in four injuries, according to state data.

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