Maine Turnpike Widens Between York, South Portland

Tue May 31, 2005 - Northeast Edition
Kip Fry

Like so many other highways around the country, the Maine Turnpike has had to deal with increasing traffic demands over the years. As a way to combat the problem, an extra lane of highway has been added along a 30-mi. stretch of road between York and South Portland.

It has been 50 years since the road has undergone such a major expansion.

The $135-million job consisted of a number of smaller jobs within its scope. To begin with, of course, was the addition of the third lane in both directions. During 2003, widening was done for 2 mi. (3.2 km) between Exit 4 in Biddeford and Exit 5 in Saco and another 3 mi. (4.8 km) between Exit 2 in Wells and Exit 3 in Kennebunk.

At the same time, all 18 bridges along the stretch of road were transfigured to allow that extra lane. Slopes alongside the road were rebuilt so that they were not as steep as before and new guardrails were added. Finally, the Exit 4 interchange was reconstructed to make its circumference less tight and the acceleration and deceleration lanes both longer and safer.

About the only section of road that was actually rebuilt was a mile-long stretch known as “The Dip,” where the highway traveled over a lower section of land, according to Dan Paradee, public affairs manager of the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA). The area has seen many accidents over the years because it was difficult for drivers to see other cars there. A total of 64,000 cu. yds. (48,640 cu m) of earth was brought in to raise the entire roadbed, which is now level.

“We figured that now would be the time to correct the problem,” although that work didn’t have any direct relationship with the widening, Paradee said.

The project lasted approximately four years and work progressed smoothly throughout its duration, Paradee said.

The turnpike, which was originally built in 1947, is the second oldest highway in the interstate system after the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Although the road was well-built for its time, traffic demands increased greatly over the years, especially during the summer months when tourists flock to the state. In fact, the volume of vehicles has tripled during the past 20 years. The new one also will be safer because accidents occur 72 percent more often on two-lane interstates than those with three.

MTA separated the project into a series of year-long contracts. That way, the Authority could keep costs down and attract in-state contractors. In 2003, Shaw Brothers Construction and R.J. Grondin & Sons, both of Gorham, ME, did the bulk of the work.

The chief consulting engineer was HNTB Engineering of Kansas City, MO —remarkably the same firm that worked on the highway when it was first built back in the 1940s.

Shaw Brothers built 2.3 mi. (3.68 km) of highway south of Exit 3. The company added both the third lane and a shoulder, each measuring 12 ft. (3.64 m). A major part of the work consisted of crushing the ledge along the side of the road and, in the process, turning it into gravel.

According to project manager Mark Barnes, Shaw Brothers used a local track machine to do the crushing. As for the widening, the company primarily used Caterpillars, such as 350 excavators.

Grondin & Sons built the new interchange. It was the only one along that stretch of road that had not been updated, said Jim Dunn, Grondin’s project manager.

“The old interchange is fairly abrupt, but the new one has been straightened out,” he said.

Grondin moved a lot of earth. It included 90,000 cu. yds. (68,400 cu m) of excavated earth, 30,000 cu. yds. (22,800 cu m) of granular rubble, 20,000 cu. yds. (15,200 cu m) of sub-base and 10,000 cu. yds. (7,600 cu m) of gravel — 150,000 cu. yds. (114,000 cu m) in all.

A total of 30,000 tons (27,000 t) of pavement also was spread, Dunn said. Grondin used a variety of machines, such as Caterpillar, Link-Belt, Hitachi and John Deere.

Reed & Reed, of Woolwich, ME, and Cianbro Corporation, of Pittsfield, ME, both worked on the 18 bridges. The plan called for as many bridges to be done as quickly as possible.

“The widening of the bridges is the easiest part of the work,” Paradee said, explaining that the work got tougher when building underpasses. The concrete abutments had to be moved back for the wider roads and also raised 14 to 17 ft. (4.2 to 5.1 m).

Due to state regulations, much of the work during the summer months was done at night. That way, workers did not have to contend with as much traffic on the road. As a way to control the traffic, pace vehicles were used. They were actually orange pickup trucks that traveled repeatedly through the construction zone at 50 mph (80 kmh). That way, they kept other vehicles from speeding through the area.

“It’s a tough place to work. With all the traffic, it is dangerous for the crew,” Barnes said.

All the money being spent on the project came from toll revenues, so no tax dollars were needed. Despite its enormous budget, the project came in slightly lower than projected so far, according to Paradee. CEG