2013-11-15 / In the News

Turnpike interchange study moves ahead

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Officials in Saco and Scarborough have approved a preliminary report highlighting the need for a new exit off the Maine Turnpike between Flag Pond Road in Saco and Broadturn Road in Scarborough. The two communities are now urging the Turnpike Authority to conduct a more formal study. (Michael Kelley photo) Officials in Saco and Scarborough have approved a preliminary report highlighting the need for a new exit off the Maine Turnpike between Flag Pond Road in Saco and Broadturn Road in Scarborough. The two communities are now urging the Turnpike Authority to conduct a more formal study. (Michael Kelley photo) The Scarborough Town Council and Saco City Council voted last week to move ahead with a study that will address the need for a new turnpike interchange in the area.

The groups both accepted a preliminary interchange justification report urging the Maine Turnpike Authority to conduct a formal review of the need for a new turnpike exit near the Saco-Scarborough line.

A preliminary report, which was drafted by Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers and Kevin Hooper Associates and released in September, states the interchange could “be a strategic infrastructure investment to direct regional travel to the Maine Turnpike, preserve the capacity of local and state routes and better accommodate future growth.”

Scarborough officials have said in the past a new interchange could alleviate traffic on Route 1, particularly between Dunstan Corner and the Oak Hill intersection. Peter Morelli, Saco’s development director, said a new interchange could also relieve traffic in Saco.

“A lot of our congestion is along the Route 112/Industrial Park Road corridor and on the ramps of Interstate 195,” he said. “A lot of that traffic is coming from the west – Hollis and other communities to our west. There is limited capacity to address that with what we have. The question is would additional access help to address this issue.”

The study looked at several possibilities to address the traffic congestion: the reopening of the old exit 5 in Biddeford; an interchange at Flag Pond Road in Saco; one just north of Flag Pond Road; an interchange that connects to the Turnpike and runs between Waterfall Drive in Saco and Ash Swamp Road in Scarborough and an interchange at Broadturn Road in Scarborough.

After studying the impacts of each option, the option using Waterfall Drive and Ash Swamp Road was determined to be a viable option, because it would “benefit the full study area” by relieving traffic congestion and providing an “alternative for emergency vehicles.”

The issue, the report states, is a new bridge over the turnpike would have to be constructed and “the connector road is long, thereby costing more to construct and maintain and having more potential for environmental issues.”

The Flag Pond interchange was also seen as viable, because it would provide “convenient access to key destinations to nearby attractions such as the beaches and Funtown/ Splashtown and other destinations while also providing for some additional economic development by serving land on both the east and west side of Route 1, but is “limited in its ability to relieve traffic” in southern and western Scarborough.

Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, told the Leader in July 2012 — when the study was commissioned by Scarborough and Saco — the eight-mile stretch between exits 44 in Scarborough and 36 in Saco is one of the most intensely traveled roads in the state.

“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.”

The new interchange, if approved, would not happen for quite some time. The report states the design year for the project is 2035.

The last time a new turnpike exit was added to the area was in 2002, when Exit 7B was added to connect Rand Road on the Portland-Westbrook line to the Maine Turnpike. That exit was renumbered to exit 47 in 2004 when the Maine Turnpike Authority and Maine Department of Transportation switched to a mile-based numbering system.

The traffic congestion may continue to get worse as both Saco and Scarborough continue to grow, Morelli said.

“When you look at Saco and Scarborough, they are two of the fastest growing large communities in Maine. Scarborough definitely is and Saco is not far behind,” he said. “We expect that to continue and we need to plan for that.”

A housing development near the Maine Turnpike on Broadturn Road may, once constructed, also increase the amount of traffic in the study area. The project, a partnership between the town of Scarborough and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, would construct an affordable and market rate housing complex between the turnpike and Saratoga Lane.

Traffic modeling done by Kevin Hooper Associates suggests the proposed interchange would handle 17,000 vehicles a day in the summer. This would be similar to exit 42, which is expected to handle 17,300 vehicles a day by 2035 and exit 47, which is expected to have a daily traffic volume of 12,600 by 2035.

The interchange would reduce Route 1 traffic heading south off Payne Road by 3,866 vehicles a day, south of Pine Point Road by 3,196, south of Cascade Road by 3,083, south of Oak Hill by 2,043 and north of Oak Hill by 1,925. It would, however, increase traffic on Cascade Road by 2,700 vehicles a day and Broadturn Road by 2,363 vehicles a day.

“Based on these forecasts, the preliminary traffic forecasts showed sufficient traffic for the municipalities to determine they should request further study by the Maine Turnpike Authority of the alternatives,” the report read.

“This is something we have worked on for a year. It warrants being looked at by the new council,” said Scarborough Town Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist, who, after not seeking reelection, will be replaced on the council later this month. “The volume of traffic in that area needs to be looked at. A project like this is going to take many years, so why not get started now.”

The idea of another exit in the area is not new. It was brought up in the Scarborough’s 2006 comprehensive plan, as well as Saco’s 2011 comprehensive plan.

The idea was also brought up in a tri-community transportation study that was done in 2011 by the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System and Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach and Saco.

Although the Maine Turnpike Authority recognizes the traffic volume is high in and around the Scarborough/ Saco line, it not known whether the group would support another turnpike exit in that area.

“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,” Mills wrote in a Feb. 16, 2012 letter to Saco Mayor Mark Johnston. “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.”

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