2012-07-06 / Front Page

Towns consider I-95 interchange

Officials in Saco and Scarborough request turnpike authority study
By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

Officials in Scarborough and Saco are hoping to convince the Maine Turnpike Authority that adding a new interchange in Saco would alleviate traffic on the turnpike, as well as Route 1 between South Portland and Saco. (Michael Kelley photo) Officials in Scarborough and Saco are hoping to convince the Maine Turnpike Authority that adding a new interchange in Saco would alleviate traffic on the turnpike, as well as Route 1 between South Portland and Saco. (Michael Kelley photo) Town officials in Saco and Scarborough have come together to hire Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers, of Gray, to develop an application for a possible new interchange off the Maine Turnpike in north Saco.

“In midwinter, officials from the town of Scarborough met with officials in Saco to collaborate on examining traffic and transportation issues on Route 1 and put together a request to the Maine Turnpike Authority to entertain an interchange study,” said Scarborough Town Planner Dan Bacon.

“There is a lot of through traffic that goes through town that doesn’t begin or end in Scarborough,” Bacon added. “A lot of the commuter traffic is using Route 1 in part because the amount of toll entrances and exits are fairly spread out once you get into southern Scarborough. There is not a logical location where they are starting or stopping their trip without backtracking,” Bacon said.

It is too early to determine exactly where the new interchange could go in the study area, which stretches from Route 112 in north Saco and the Dunstan Corner area in Scarborough.

One option, said Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall, could be an interchange off the turnpike that would connect to Cascade Road in Saco. The road, just south of Aquaboggan Water Park, connects to Saco Avenue in downtown Old Orchard Beach.

Scarborough and Saco are splitting the cost of the $13,500 study; on June 18, the Saco City Council approved allocating the city’s share, which equals $6,750. Hall said Scarborough’s share would come from existing money in the executive account and the issue will not have to go before the town council.

Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, said the eight-mile stretch between exits 44 in Scarborough and 36 in Saco is one of the most intensely traveled roads in the state. He believes traffic problems will increase due to housing project plans near the turnpike. In the works is a 17-unit affordable housing project next to the turnpike on Broadturn Road in Scarborough.

“Traffic issues seem to be growing and growing for commuters getting on the turnpike,” Mills said. “The amount of development west of the turnpike is aggressive and the number of people attracted to the area could add to the problem.”

In a letter dated Feb. 16 to Saco Mayor Mark Johnston, Mills wrote: “While the MTA’s present 30-year plan allocates no money for an additional Saco interchange, the Saco region is one of the fastest growing areas in Maine. Because the turnpike section from Saco to South Portland is already the state’s busiest highway, it is highly appropriate for local planners to coordinate with MTA and DOT to get a better handle on the future growth and begin thinking about where the solutions lie.”

This is not the first time the topic has been addressed in Saco or Scarborough. Saco Economic Development Director Peter Morelli said officials from both cities looked at a study four years ago, but a plan did not materialize. But with a new Saco administration came a renewed interest, Morelli said.

Gorrill-Palmer will spend the summer studying traffic patterns to determine the best course of action to alleviate traffic build up getting on the turnpike.

“I suspect this is going to be a three-month endeavor for Gorrill-Palmer,” Bacon said. “Following that work, the next step would be a formal submission to the MTA.”

Gorrill-Palmer will review other recent traffic studies, including the 2005 townwide traffic study in Scarborough, the 2010 Portland Area Comprehensive Traffic System study in 2010 and the Gorham East-West highway study as it prepares this interchange study.

“Our work would include assistance in assembling such information as a preliminary statement of purpose and need, current and future traffic volumes, current and future capacity issues, accessibility deficiencies, safety documentation and other relevant information necessary to complete application and demonstrate the need for a interchange study to the (Maine Turnpike) Authority and Department (of Transportation),” Gorrill- Palmer Consulting Engineers President Tom Gorrill wrote in a letter to Hall and Morelli.

“They have a deep and long history with both communities from a private development point of view and for town studies. They have a lot of historical data already. They have done a lot of work in Scarborough and it always makes sense to work with someone you have experience with,” Hall said.

Morelli said although an interchange has been discussed, it’s not the only option.

“It’s more than a single interchange, it’s a study of access,” Morelli said. “The study could lead to other improvements. Lanes could be constructed differently than they are now.”

Hall said Scarborough and Saco are not the only two communities that could benefit from a new interchange. Hall said he would like to approach Old Orchard Beach to further split the cost of the study. A conversation has not been initiated, said Old Orchard Beach Public Works Director Bill Robertson.

While the new Saco interchange may or may not eventually materialize, a new interchange is being constructed in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

The MTA is currently working in conjunction with the Maine Department of Transportation on an interchange plan near exit 80 in Lewiston. The $17 million project will replace the 57-year-old interchange and the aging bridge that is connected to it, Mills said.

The project is funded by MTA tolls and gas taxes imposed by the DOT. Recently, the MTA Board of Directors announced several plans to increase toll prices to fund a $27 million plan to repair roads and bridges on the turnpike. Mills said the decision to raise tolls was not impacted by specific projects.

“The only question we have when thinking about raising tolls is, ‘What is the right thing to do,’ while looking at the current economic state,” Mills said.

MTA staff is leaning toward focusing the toll hikes on York and New Gloucester.

Three public meetings on the topic were held in Auburn, Portland and Saco in June. Additional meetings are scheduled at the American Legion Hall in York at 6:30 p.m. on July 9 and Wells High School at 6:30 p.m. on July 11.

Written and emailed comments will be accepted through the close of business on Monday, July 16. Additional information, including addresses to send comments, can be found at maineturnpike.com.

Staff Writer Marc Filippino contributed to this story

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

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