That’s the way MaineDOT has handled a series of important, related highway projects on and near Route 295 and Route 95, all designed to improve traffic congestion in and around the busy Maine Mall area.
The Maine Mall area in South Portland is one of the busiest areas in the state, with thousands of stores, restaurants, offices, manufacturing and distribution facilities and homes served by a network of heavily traveled roadways.
“While public transportation is and will become even more important in the future, building and maintaining the network of roadways is critical to the large majority of people who travel by car to and from the area,” said Jessica Roy, vice president of the South Portland Chamber of Commerce. “The traffic on our streets and roads is the life blood of our community, representing the movement of people and materials that make South Portland so vibrant.”
Recognizing this, in 2005, then MaineDOT Commissioner David A. Cole announced a comprehensive set of roadway improvement projects for the Maine Mall area designed to improve traffic flow, enhance driver safety and convenience, and to support continued economic growth in South Portland and Maine.
South Portland officials and business leaders emphasized the benefits that the projects would bring to their community.
Portland — the largest city in Maine —is accessible from I-95 (the Maine Turnpike), I-295, and U.S. Route 1.
U.S. Route 302, a major travel route and scenic highway between Maine and Vermont, has its eastern terminus in Portland. Routes 95 and 295 cross at one point and these DOT projects are in proximity to one another.
The Big Six
Two years ago, six consolidated, related projects were announced, including a mix of improvements being accomplished by the Maine Department of Transportation and the city of South Portland. Some of the projects were already under way two years ago and one was completed. The rest included some very significant work:
• The creation of a new entrance ramp to I-295 allowing right-hand turn access from Westbrook Street and Broadway at Exit 3, eliminating the need to cross oncoming traffic on Westbrook Street to enter I-295 northbound.
• The addition of a right-hand turning lane on the Maine Mall Road at the intersection of Running Hill Road and Gorham Road, allowing traffic to proceed more smoothly through that intersection.
• The reconstruction of the Payne Road Bridge, which carries traffic over the Maine Turnpike/Interstate-95 connector at Exit 45 (formerly Exit 7) to renew the life span of the bridge and to increase width to three lanes in each direction plus the addition of a sidewalk.
• The creation of Jetport Plaza Road adjacent to the Portland International Jetport, connecting Western Avenue and North Westbrook Street, providing new access to the area north of Western Avenue including improved emergency access to the Jetport.
• Redevelopment of the intersection of Western Avenue and Westbrook Street, including the construction of a left turn lane from Western Avenue onto North Westbrook Street as well as the construction of a dual left turn lane from North Westbrook Street onto Westbrook Street. The addition of these turning lanes will improve traffic flow and enhance safety.
• The widening and resurfacing of Western Avenue from two to five lanes, resulting in two lanes in each direction with a center turning lane, wider shoulders, a bike lane and sidewalks for increased capacity, safety and convenience.
At the announcement of the big six, MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole said, “We are working to enhance driver safety, convenience and the efficient flow of ever-increasing volumes of traffic in this part of South Portland. These efforts will bring important benefits needed today, and prepare for the needs of tomorrow.”
Payne Road Well Ahead of Schedule
The Payne Road project — with an original price tag of just under $11 million — is the biggest of the six-phase work.
Payne Road consists of replacing the two existing two-lane bridges that span the Exit 45 toll plaza leading onto Route 295 with a single six-lane bridge, three lanes northbound and three lanes southbound. The project, which began in the fall of 2005 was scheduled to be completed in June 2008, but is ahead of schedule, according to Mike Borssonneault, a consultant for MaineDOT.
Borssonneault, a former DOT resident engineer, recently retired, but has come back as a consultant on the Payne Road project until its completion, which is imminent.
“Starting in October 2005, it was a phase job,” said Borssonneault. “When we first started, we had two separate bridges on each side, two lanes, north and south, We had to build the two lanes first, and then maintain traffic on what it was, the existing lanes. Once that was completed, we put traffic on that lane, then we put the bridges down.”
The two bridges were eventually removed and two new sections were built.
The main contractor for this work is Reed & Reed Inc. of Woolwich, Maine. Borssonneault said Reed & Reed usually kept 10 to 15 men on the clock, weather permitting, with more men on the roads doing other work subcontracted out to various other firms.
Remarkably, he added, the work is eight months ahead of schedule and only a little over budget, due to some additional work added in the throes of the original design.
“We’re having a semi-final inspection soon,” said Borssonneault. “We’ll go through a checklist of things. It should be done by the end of October. The job was supposed to be done in the latter part of June next year . What sped this up is, according to specs [law], you can’t pave the road surface after October 15. We were able to get it all in now. We anticipated that to be done next June. We were all set for next April and May to get hot asphalt and striping in. But that’s done.”
Although, being a veteran of the harsh early winters up north, he added this caveat: “You can’t ever tell. This is October, you can still get storms in. You can’t ever tell,” laughed Borssonneault.
The work will come in just over the $10.9 million original cost figure. “We’re about in that range. The problem is we’ve added on some items as it went along,” said Borssonneault. “One of them is, we’re in the mall area. An area in the mall was going to be developed by the mall. Instead of having a whole bunch of contractors doing that work there, we incorporated the work into our project.”
One of the things that made the job go more smoothly on Payne Road was the use of huge blocks of geofoam, styrofoam that weighs about two pounds per cubic foot, said Borssonneault. The foam greatly lightened the weight of the concrete abutments put in place on the bridge now going over the highway.
“We put the geofoam in behind the abutments where the new construction was in place. It lowers the load,” said Borssonneault. “Wet sand, gravel, concrete, are always a certain weight, but the foam makes it awfully lightweight. It serves as a fill, a lightweight fill.”
Borssonneault is confident the new toll bridge at Payne Road will make traffic go much more smoothly.
“I hope it’s going to be smoother,” he laughed. “It’s still a busy area. We are making it a little wider, a little siding. We’ve added an extra lane. Traffic might move a little bit better. The whole thing here is, you are in a mall area. You’ve got a lot of traffic lights, a lot of people turning in, turning out, still keeps it busy.”
Nearby I-295 Work Began in September
Last month, work on the I-295 Exit 3 Interchange project in South Portland — another one of the Maine Mall Area roadwork projects undertaken during the past two years by MaineDOT and the city of South Portland — began with the clearing of trees and other vegetation on the “golf course side” of Broadway, where Broadway approaches Westbrook Street and Exit 3, according to MaineDOT assistant project manager Jeff Tweedie.
“Roadwork, including excavation and preparatory earthwork for drainage and utilities, will begin as soon as the clearing is completed,” said Tweedie. The roadwork will involve reconstruction of parts of Westbrook Street and Broadway, and a new on-ramp to I-295 that includes an overpass of Westbrook Street.
“While construction is in progress, the contractor will be required to maintain traffic in both directions at all times, except for a limited number of nighttime closures that will be needed during construction of the on-ramp overpass,” Tweedie added. “Traffic impacts will be moderate at first, but increasing over the fall. We expect the impacts to be mainly on Westbrook Street, with some lesser impacts on Broadway. While the project is under construction, through-travelers may want to avoid Crockett’s Corner [the intersection of Westbrook Street and Broadway] if possible, and seek alternate routes.”
The Exit 3 construction involves creation of a new entrance ramp to I-295, which will allow right-hand turn access from Westbrook Street and Broadway at Exit 3, and will eliminate the need to cross oncoming traffic on Westbrook Street when entering I-295 northbound.
Some work was performed beginning in 2005 during Phase I of the project, when base material was placed on either side of Westbrook Street.
This “pre-loading” is done to allow for settlement of the compressible soils located under the embankment, and will provide a very stable foundation on which to build the new on-ramp overpass of Westbrook Street. Funding for Phase II of the project was included in MaineDOT’s Biennial Capital Work Plan for Fiscal Years 2008-2009, and was secured, in part, with passage of the transportation bond issue this past June, enabling this and other projects to go forward.
R.J. Grondin & Sons of Gorham, Maine, won the $5.6 million contract to do this work. The completion date for the project is June 2009. Redevelopment of the intersection of Western Avenue and Westbrook Street is being funded by the developer of the Brick Hill residential project under an agreement with the city.
Jessica Roy of the South Portland Chamber of Commerce added, “These improvements are welcomed by the South Portland business community, as our customers and employees will be able to travel more easily to and through the area.”
In all, the projects represented an investment in transportation infrastructure of more than $26.68 million. CEG