YORK, Maine — Construction will start this June on the Piscataqua River Bridge. The project includes the resurfacing of all six lanes, the replacement of traffic barriers, and upgrades to other structural and electrical elements.
Additionally, the bridge is being primed for a possible Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), which may allow existing bridge breakdown lanes to be converted into a fourth travel lane (in both directions) to help ease traffic flow during peak travel times.
The Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) and the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA) plan to start that effort once the resurfacing and improvements are complete.
As part of the initiative Maine DOT officials are urging people to stay on the I-95 bridge and avoid local streets.
To keep traffic moving as best they can they will keep all six lanes of the bridge open during daylight hours between Memorial Day and Columbus Day and on major National holidays.
Lane closures will only occur in the evening hours of 8:00PM and 5:00AM.
The cost to repair the bridge is $52.6 million. MaineDOT is sharing the cost with The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) and MTA.
The bridge work is expected to be completed in May 2022.
“The Piscataqua River Bridge is the most important bridge in our state,” said Bruce Van Note, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation. “It’s the critical artery connecting Maine to New Hampshire and all points south. The bridge is almost 50 years old, and it is simply time to make repairs and improvements.”
The replacement of the York Toll Plaza, which MTA started last fall, is the second major construction project on the I-95 corridor.
Once completed, it will feature six new electronic highway-speed E-ZPass lanes (three in each direction), allowing motorists to travel without stopping.
When the project is complete, the York Toll Plaza E-ZPass lanes will be able to process 5,400 vehicles per hour in one direction.
To help keep traffic moving and mitigate delays at the new toll plaza location, MTA plans to maintain three lanes of traffic in each direction throughout most of the construction. During the entire length of the project, MTA anticipates that there will only be 42 days when there will be fewer than three lanes open.
The cost to relocate the toll plaza to mile 8.8 on the Maine Turnpike and add high-speed tolling lanes is $39 million.
The project is expected to be completed during the summer of 2021.
These revitalizing projects are part of an initiative called “Maine Ahead: Building a Better Gateway”.
The goal is to modernize and improve safety and mobility on the eight-mile stretch of interstate that runs from New Hampshire, over the Piscataqua River Bridge, and through the York Toll Plaza.
“This endeavor is about revitalizing Maine’s iconic southern gateway to create easier access, better traffic flow, and highway-speed tolling — all important to the state’s long-term future, economic stability, and growth, especially as visitors to our state increase” says Commissioner Van Note.
Maine has always been a popular tourist destination and its appeal is only growing and fast.
In 2018, 37 million tourists visited Maine. That is a 33-percent increase from 2012 tourism numbers.
Every day, 74,000 vehicles cross the Piscataqua River Bridge, and in the summer, that daily traffic number can climb to 130,000 vehicles.
“With that growth comes increased travel through Maine’s southern gateway,” said Peter Mills, Executive Director of the Maine Turnpike Authority.
“That increase has led to a rise in back-ups and traffic jams at the state’s southern gateway. ‘Maine Ahead’ will modernize two of Maine’s iconic entry points, Piscataqua River Bridge and the York Toll Plaza, helping to alleviate congestion and keep traffic moving, especially during peak travel periods without increasing toll prices.”
Drivers aren’t looking forward to the increased traffic and congestion, but they understand it.
Maggie Edmondson of Readfield who was stopped at the Kennebunkport rest area says “I think that will be difficult, because it’s always difficult to get in and out of Maine, during the summer anyway.”
Kelly Shaw agreed but says “it’s got to be done, not doing it doesn’t it really help.”
Al Palmer has been driving trucks for almost 25 years and he’s made many trips to and from Maine. On Wednesday he was transporting cars from Bangor to Boston and made a stop at the Kennebunkport rest area.
“I came up last summer on a Saturday and oh my God, so many people out here, you just got to plan early.”
“We want to reassure travelers and commuters that we have them in mind and are going to be doing everything in our power to keep motorists safe and traffic moving,” said Commissioner Van Note.
Transportation officials are hoping the benefits of the two projects, will outweigh any burden.
"This gateway is our front door, our welcome home sign. We need to keep it safe, reliable and modern and welcoming so residents are proud to return and visitors get a great first impression" says Commissioner Van Note.
Drivers can get the information about both infrastructure projects by visiting the “Maine Ahead” website at buildingabettergateway.com.