Crews Clean Up ’Spaghetti’ Mess in Portland

Tue October 19, 2004 - Northeast Edition
Kip Fry

For years, drivers in Portland, ME, have had to take a roundabout route to get downtown. That will change now that a new highway, known as the Portland Connector, is being constructed to connect Interstate 95 with Route 1 and the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge. It also will replace an intersection that has been called a “spaghetti situation.”

Although the entire Connector will be only approximately 1 mi. (1.6 km) long when finished, the commute for people trying to access the downtown from the north on Interstate 295 will be cut in half. Previously, vehicles coming from that direction had to cross the Fore River further to the south and then cut back to the northeast across the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, a 2-mi. (3.2 km) path.

The Connector also should reduce traffic on local streets. For years, vehicles coming in from the north had to leave I-295 and travel Congress and Valley streets to Commercial Street. That will be unnecessary once the project is finished. Officials also hope that it will make streets in the area safer and that economic development there will be spurred.

Much of the focus so far has been on the Veteran’s Circle at the eastern end of the Connector, which will open later this year, according to Brad Foley, project manager of the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT). People have had to navigate it to access the downtown, but not without difficulties.

“The interchange will relieve congestion,” Foley said of the intersection on which 30,000 vehicles travel each day. “It is a tight circle and a confusing intersection, which was never properly put together.”

That intersection will be finished later this year, while the intersection with I-295 at the other end of the road already has been finished. This will allow contractors to spend more of their time on the main body of the Connector itself.

The route for the Connector will travel through largely undeveloped land along the Fore River and includes three new bridges. One of the bridges will be completed in November, while the other two and the remainder of the highway will be finished in autumn 2005, although other parts of the project will be done well before that. For example, work on Veteran’s Intersection will end in November 2004.

Other work also has been done on some of the side streets. Construction on West Commercial Street and Industrial Drive finished last June.

Because of the complexities of the project, the DOT has had to interact with a number of other agencies overseeing things such as utilities and mass transit. For example, special pedestrian crossings are being planned in two different places for the proposed expansion of nearby Mercy Hospital, even though the building has not been built yet. A set of traffic lights is scheduled to be added in both places.

“We’ve had a very positive response. The feedback has been good. We’ve talked to the business community and the response has been very positive,” said Foley.

“It has been a substantial partnering effort,” said Parker Hadlock, project manger of Cianbro Corporation of Pittsfield, ME, the primary contractor for the job. “The DOT has been terrific and the city has been involved. It is as good as one could expect. Better.”

It also has helped that the project has received “a ton of good press,” according to Hadlock. “The general public was scared about the project, but we don’t have any detractors yet.” Although things are two weeks ahead of schedule (plans are for everything to be finished by November 2005), construction crews have experienced problems with the clay by the side of the river.

“The geotechnical conditions have been onerous. It was a little more than we bargained for,” said Hadlock, adding that the designers found a cost-effective way of dealing with it. “Had people taken the most conservative route, it would have been overbuilt and over-expensive.”

“The underlying clay needs to consolidate, so we need to wait for settling to occur,” said Foley. Contractors will be able to deal with that next year.

Detours have played a part in only one section of the entire project — Veteran’s Circle — so six detours have been used there and at two nearby bridges that are being demolished. Traffic also has been rerouted where a mechanically stabilized earth wall is being built, according to Hadlock.

Not everything is being built for motor vehicles. A 1.5-mi. (2.4 km) section of bike path also is being constructed along the waterfront, completing a full circle of the downtown. Cianbro is handling that part of the project.

Although Cianbro is the primary contractor and is keying on the structural end of things, it is being assisted by a number of subcontractors on the $23-million project. The Louis Berger Group, of East Orange, NJ, is in charge of the design; Shaw Brothers Construction, of Gorham, ME, the highway work; and S.W. Cole Engineering, of Bangor, ME, the geotechnical.

Shaw Brothers is doing much of the excavating and is using Caterpillar backhoes and Manitowoc cranes.

Hadlock said he is not sure how much dirt has been moved, but that “there is a lot of it.” A great deal of waste material has been reclaimed for use in other parts of the project. For example, gravel was mixed with concrete and used in the pavement of the Connector.