This 2003 photo shows the northbound Portland Loop (I-295) at EXIT 8 (ME 26 / Washington Avenue) in Portland. Exit numbers were not changed along the original "Portland Loop" section of I-295 because the exits already were spaced approximately one mile apart. (Photo by Douglas Kerr, gribblenation.com.)
"I don't think the present DOT could put a highway through Portland the way we did it then because of the environmental reasons" - former State Highway Commissioner David H. Stevens on the difficulties encountered building I-295 through Portland and South Portland
THE PORTLAND LOOP: Conceived in the early 1950's as a bypass of US 1 through downtown Portland, the 11-mile-long Portland Loop was included in preliminary plans developed by the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) in its "Yellow Book" of proposed urban freeways. The four-lane freeway was to extend from the Maine Turnpike (I-95) at the current EXIT 45 in South Portland north to Falmouth, where a separate US 1 freeway was being planned to extend north to Brunswick.
Even before the current I-295 became eligible for 90 percent financing on the route in 1956, Maine officials had initiated work on a one-mile-long section of the highway north of Portland's Back Cove (and north of downtown) two years earlier. At the southern end of the route, the state highway department purchased right-of-way along Long Creek in South Portland. The original plans called for I-295 to cross the Fore River from South Portland to Portland over the then-new Veterans Memorial Bridge (built in 1954) and entering Portland along the Valley Street-St. John Street corridor (US 1), but officials decided against this plan because the Veterans Memorial Bridge did not meet Interstate highway design standards.
By 1960, nearly four miles of I-295 had been completed from the Falmouth Spur (current I-495) in Falmouth south to Tukey's Bridge in Portland. The four-lane freeway - which increased to six lanes in the area of Tukey's Bridge - was built with a steel median barrier from EXIT 8 (ME 26 / Washington Avenue) to just north of EXIT 9 (US 1). From this point north to EXIT 11 (Falmouth Spur), the two carriageways were separated by a variable grassy median. The new six-lane Tukey's Bridge, which was the first six-lane bridge in the state, replaced a bridge dating back to the Colonial era named for Lemuel Tukey, a tavern owner and toll collector for the original span.
With the southernmost seven miles of I-295 awaiting construction, Maine highway officials entertained a proposal to push the proposed Interstate out of South Portland and extend it west along the "Westbrook Expressway" corridor. The plan, which was pushed by local officials in Westbrook and Gorham, was to be a bypass of the existing ME 25.
By 1964, state highway officials firmly established the South Portland route as its recommended alternative, but extended I-295 slightly south to a new interchange on the Maine Turnpike. The state also rejected a more direct route to I-95 through Portland International Airport that likely would have required cost-prohibitive easements and relocations.
CLAY CHAOS AND OTHER CONSTRUCTION WOES: As work progressed on the southern section of the Portland Loop during the second half of the 1960's, engineers discovered a vexing problem. Marine clays in the I-295 right-of-way had the potential to create instability in the roadbed through land slippage, poor foundation support, and insufficient drainage. To remedy the problem of unstable marine clays, engineers drilled more than 500 vertical drains in Portland and South Portland. These drains were filled with sand to stabilize the soil.
Construction of I-295 took a section of Deering Oaks (the main city park) and separated downtown Portland from Back Cove. It also took dozens of homes, a plant owned by Monmouth Canning Company, and a gas tank owned by the Portland Gas Light Company, but highway officials spared dozens more between EXIT 5 (ME 22 / Congress Street) and EXIT 6 (US 302 / Forest Avenue) when state officials decided to route the highway along a railroad right-of-way instead of through a residential neighborhood.
The next section of I-295 was an isolated stretch from EXIT 1 (Maine Mall Road / US 1) north to EXIT 4 (US 1 / Veterans Memorial Bridge) in South Portland, which opened to traffic in 1971. By 1974, the remaining sections of I-295 through Portland, the new Fore River Bridge, and the connector to the Maine Turnpike all opened to traffic.
These photos from the late 1960's show construction crews drilling sand drains along the route of the future I-295 in Portland and South Portland. More than 500 of these drains were drilled and filled with sand to stabilize the marine clay, which if left unchecked would have damaged the I-295 roadbed prematurely. (Photos from the Maine Department of Transportation archives, "Maine's Interstate Highway System Turns 50," 2006.)
THE FORMER I-95 SECTION: Construction of "Relocated US 1" began in 1951 with the building of a short concrete frame bridge over a railroad right-of-way between EXIT 20 (Desert Road) and EXIT 22 (ME 125 / ME 136) in Freeport. By 1957, a new four-lane freeway from Freeport north to EXIT 28 (US 1) in Brunswick opened to traffic. Four years later, the freeway was extended south from Freeport to the Falmouth Spur and I-295 in Falmouth.
When the new "Relocated US 1" freeway opened, it had received a new designation: I-95. The I-95 designation continued south along the Falmouth Spur toward the Maine Turnpike. However, the extension of I-95 from Brunswick north to Gardiner stayed in limbo for years, given the priority of Maine highway officials to finish I-95 further north and the existence of another route - the Maine Turnpike (which did not have a designation at the time) - for through traffic. When strict new environmental regulations went into effect in 1970, officials had to re-submit plans for the missing Brunswick-to-Gardiner I-95 link.
Construction of the four-lane I-95 missing link began in 1971 at the Androscoggin River Bridge. Unlike the older I-95 section to the south, which had a uniform 24-foot-wide grassy median, the Brunswick-to-Gardiner section had a wide variable median that took advantage of the contour of the land; this median was as much as 200 to 300 feet wide. A three-mile section of the missing link opened to traffic in 1973 from EXIT 28 (US 1) in Brunswick to EXIT 31 (ME 196) in Topsham. In 1977, the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) completed the final stretch of I-95 from Topsham north to the Maine Turnpike junction in Gardiner.
When the new highway opened, MaineDOT called it the "I-95 Coastal Route" on destination signs; most through traffic was directed onto the Maine Turnpike. Nevertheless, I-95 proved popular over time because it (in conjunction with I-295) provided a toll-free alternative to the Maine Turnpike between the Portland area and Augusta, raising concerns that toll revenues were being siphoned from the Maine Turnpike.
THE "I-95 COASTAL ROUTE" BECOMES I-295: To reinforce the notion that I-95 was the through traffic route and reduce motorist confusion, MaineDOT submitted plans to the American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to re-designate I-95 from Falmouth to Gardiner as I-295, and reverting the I-95 designation to the Maine Turnpike. Completing the "musical chairs" of designations, the I-495 designation on the Maine Turnpike (which came into being in 1987) was applied to the short Falmouth Spur; the I-495 designation is not signed on the spur.
After five years of discussions between state and Federal highways officials, the AASHTO approved the re-designations effective in 2004. Upon the re-designation, I-295 now stretched 52 miles from Scarborough to Gardiner.
This 2003 photo shows the northbound I-295 at EXIT 28 (US 1 / former EXIT 22) in Brunswick. This section of I-295 was part of I-95 until 2004 when the state's re-designation and new exit numbering schemes became effective. (Photo by Douglas Kerr, gribblenation.com.)
IMPROVING I-295: According to MaineDOT, I-295 carries approximately 80,000 vehicles per day (AADT) through the Portland area. This volume dwindles down to about 30,000 vehicles per day along the Freeport-to-Brunswick section and about 15,000 vehicles per day along the Brunswick-to-Gardiner section.
MaineDOT repaved much of the original Portland Loop section of I-295 during the mid-1990's at a cost of $3 million. In 2005, MaineDOT began a two-year, $5 million to improve EXIT 3 (ME 9 / Westbrook Street) through the construction of a rebuilt overpass and new ramps.
In 2007, MaineDOT devised a long-range proposal to widen I-295 to six lanes (from four) from EXIT 2 (Scarbourgh Connector) in South Portland north to EXIT 9 (US 1) in downtown Portland, and from EXIT 11 (I-495 / Falmouth Spur) in Falmouth north to EXIT 15 (US 1) in Yarmouth. The two new lanes would be built in the median strip, requiring the construction of a concrete ("Jersey") median barrier. The state anticipates a 20 percent increase in traffic along I-295 from Scarborough to Brunswick, but in public hearings held in early 2008 the widening proposal was panned by those who favored upgraded rail service north of Portland.
This 2005 photo shows the northbound I-295 approaching EXIT 1 (US 1) in Scarborough. (Photo by Alex Nitzman and Carter Buchanan.)
SOURCES: "South Portland Route Wins Over Westbrook Expressway," The Portland Evening Express (5/02/1964); "New Portland Interstate Route," The Portland Evening Express (2/15/1968); "Repaving Starts Along Interstate 295," The Portland Press-Herald (9/15/1994); "Change Could End Confusion Over Exits," The Portland Press-Herald (7/06/1999); "Night Work Needed for Ramp, State Says" by Justin Ellis, The Portland Press-Herald (10/23/2006); "Maine's Interstate Highway System: An Investment in Safety, Mobility, and Prosperity," Maine Department of Transportation (2006); "Crowd Criticizes I-295 Widening" by Tess Nacelewicz, The Portland Press-Herald (1/31/2008); Eric D. Bryant; Scott Oglesby; Alexander Svirsky.
I-295 and I-95 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.