PORTLAND, Maine — It was only the country’s second superhighway when it was built, and on Dec. 13 the Maine Turnpike turns 75 years old.
Hundreds of Mainers worked to cut down trees, design, and build a highway system from Kittery to Portland, then later to Augusta. Thousands more have spent careers maintaining it and collecting the tolls that keep it running.
The 109-mile stretch of Maine Turnpike, also known as Interstate 95 or I-95, between Kittery and Augusta is one of the state's busiest stretches of road, supporting 10 percent of the state's traffic and about 55 percent of the state's freight.
"By the '40s, it was taking people a good half a day by car to get from Kittery to Portland on Route 1," Erin Courtney, who is in charge of public outreach for the Maine Turnpike Authority, said.
It took two years to build the first section of the toll highway from Kittery to Portland. It was miles of paved road, much of it going through untamed land.
"The mechanism by which they're building, they're using oxen in some parts to grade these roads," Courtney explained.
While big machines have made road building easier, the regulations have gotten stricter. Now, there are permits to pull and wetland research to be done for any expansion or readjustment.
By 1955, during the boom in superhighway building happening across the country, the Maine Turnpike was extended. The plan was to stretch it all the way to Fort Kent, but states got federal funding to build their roads when the Interstate Act passed, ending the self-funded turnpike in Augusta.
There was always a plan to eliminate the tolls once the bonds for the construction had been paid off. The Maine Department of Transportation was set to take over the maintenance of the road, but Maine Legislature voted to keep it as a self-funded roadway, Courtney said.
"Well, there were things that happened in the '70s. There was a gas shortage, the Iran hostage crisis, all of these things impacted the price of fuel and how much money [Maine]DOT was pulling in, so the revenue dropped significantly," Courtney explained. "The legislature thought it made sense to keep the tolls in place, especially since half of it was being paid for by out-of-staters."
Now, two-thirds of the turnpike tolls come from out-of-state money, and excess funding helps MaineDOT cover some of its projects.
History has rolled along the 109 miles of the turnpike and spans generations.
"My dad worked out here for 20 years," Jody Dyke, who is in his 20th year working for the turnpike, said.
Dyke's son, Andrew, has eight years under his belt, though his start with the highway began years earlier, when he was born in the back of an ambulance traveling southbound on the turnpike.
The three generations of Dykes are just a small part of the now 300 Maine Turnpike Authority employees collecting tolls, maintaining roads, and engineering new ways to improve transportation.
As for the future of the Maine Turnpike, there’s talk of a Gorham connector to alleviate some of the rush hour traffic to and from that area, and talks of paying tolls through an app, no longer requiring transponders on the windshield.
In honor of its 75th birthday on Tuesday, visitors are encouraged to stop by the Maine Turnpike Authority headquarters off Skyway Drive in Portland and pick up a gift.