This 2003 photo shows the northbound Maine Turnpike (I-95) approaching EXIT 36 in Saco. Formerly known as EXIT 5 until 2004, this interchange was relocated in 1983 upon the completion of the Saco Industrial Spur (I-195). (Photo by Douglas Kerr, gribblenation.com.)
POSTPONED BY WARTIME, EXPEDITED BY PEACETIME: As soon as the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened to traffic in 1940, a number of states rushed to develop plans for their own toll roads. Lawmakers in Augusta were no exception, and in 1941 the Maine State Legislature created the "Maine Turnpike Authority" as an independent state agency charged with building and maintaining a turnpike "from some point at or near Kittery to a point at or near Fort Kent."
The outbreak of war in December of that year, along with gasoline rationing that restricted civilian motor vehicle usage, halted all plans for the turnpike. The end of the war and related gasoline rationing created unprecedented congestion along US 1 between Portsmouth and Portland, particularly during the first postwar summer of 1946.
Against this backdrop, and prompted by the success of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the state issued $20 million in bonds to finance the Maine Turnpike in 1946. Work began on the first 44 miles of the turnpike began soon thereafter.
Not everyone was in favor of the turnpike. The American Automobile Association (AAA) and the Federal Public Roads Association, both of which favored a free expressway, said the turnpike would end up being a financial boondoggle for the state. Some did not favor building a bypass of Route 1 at all, especially merchants dependent on the tourist trade.
BUILT THROUGH ALL KINDS OF TERRAIN TO SURVIVE A MAINE WINTER: As construction got underway, glacial geologists from the University of Maine studied the diverse topography along the right-of-way. They set up on-site testing laboratories, drilled into granite, and studied soil samples from forest, hill, and swamp terrain.
A highway like the Maine Turnpike needed protection from rough Maine winters, so geologists and engineers came up with a solution. A thick layer of sandy gravel that is impervious to frost action, but is porous enough to permit water to drain, was placed along the right-of-way. The original pavement was an eight-inch thick mix of asphalt and concrete designed to adapt to heavy snow and ice conditions.
The turnpike dual 24-foot-wide roadways - each accommodating two lanes of traffic built for a design speed of 60 miles per hour - were separated by a 26-foot-wide grassy median. Paved shoulders along the right lane permitted parking of disabled vehicles. A service area was built at milepost 25 in Kennebunk to provide gasoline and other motorist services.
THE TURNPIKE OPENS, BUT IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE SUCCESS: After little more than one year of construction, the initial stretch of turnpike opened to traffic on December 13, 1947, becoming only the second modern-era turnpike in the United States. The original turnpike, which connected US 1 in Kittery (at the current EXIT 2) with the US 1 Connector (the current EXIT 45) in South Portland, had only three intermediate interchanges: in Wells, Biddeford, and Saco (interchanges at York, Kennebunk, and Scarborough were not added until later). It had a toll of 50 cents for passenger cars, or just over one penny per mile.
However, the Maine Turnpike was not an immediate financial success. The turnpike generated less than $670,000 in operating income during its first full fiscal year. This was 18 percent below the original forecast, and just above the $512,000 in annual interest expenses. The shortfall was blamed on a high percentage of local trips and a low percentage of long-distance trips. To address the shortfall, MTA officials raised the passenger call toll to 60 cents for the entire distance. As the turnpike became more popular with long-distance motorists, toll revenues rose dramatically, prompting officials in New Hampshire officials to begin work on a connecting road. By the early 1950's, the toll on the 44-mile-long Maine Turnpike had risen to 85 cents.
EXTENDING NORTH TO AUGUSTA: As more tourists flocked to Maine - a trend that accelerated with the opening of the New Hampshire Turnpike in 1950 - officials devised plans to extend the Maine Turnpike from South Portland to the state capital. With this in mind, the MTA issued $75 million in new bonds in 1952. Approximately $55 million of this bond issue was to finance the 63-mile-long extension to Augusta.
Work began on the Augusta extension in 1953. The design of the South Portland-to-Augusta segment was similar to that of the earlier segment, though a New York Times article called the new segment "more scenic" than the original one. The new segment opened to traffic on December 13, 1955, about two months behind schedule because of delays caused by two hurricanes. A 3.5-mile-long spur (called the "Falmouth Spur") was built to connect the mainline turnpike with US 1 (and eventually I-295) in Falmouth). The toll on the extension was $1.10.
Four additional service areas were added along the extension: two northbound (at mileposts 59 and 98) and two southbound (at mileposts 83 and 58).
PART OF THE INTERSTATE SYSTEM: Upon completion of the original 109 miles, officials contemplated an extension of the turnpike to northern Maine, but the 1956 Federal Highway Act authorizing construction of the Interstate highway system put these plans to rest. To maintain continuity with the national network, two segments of the Maine Turnpike - from Kittery to Portland, and again from Gardiner to Augusta - were designated I-95. The Interstate designation along I-95 north of Augusta made unnecessary the building of a toll-financed Maine Turnpike north toward Bangor, Houlton, and Fort Kent.
Between Portland and Gardiner, I-95 was built during the 1960's and 1970's along a coastal route that deviated from the Maine Turnpike's inland route. The turnpike itself along these two points did not become an Interstate highway until 1988, when it received the I-495 designation.
A CONNECTION TO NEW HAMPSHIRE: In 1972, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the MTA completed a six-lane connection from EXIT 2 (US 1) in Kittery south to the new Piscataqua River Bridge. This two-mile-long link provided a direct expressway connection to the newly expanded New Hampshire Turnpike (I-95) in Portsmouth.
This 2003 photo shows the northbound Maine Turnpike (I-95) approaching EXIT 44 (I-295) in South Portland. This interchange, which was known as EXIT 6A until 2004, marks the northern end of the 2000-2004 widening project which brought an additional travel lane south to Kittery. (Photo by Douglas Kerr, gribblenation.com.)
INITIAL PLANS TO WIDEN THE TURNPIKE: As early as the late 1960's, state officials considered plans to widen the turnpike from its original four-lane configuration to six lanes. These plans gained momentum upon the arrival of David Stevens as head of the MTA in 1972. Stevens, who had been MDOT Commissioner, spearheaded the state's original widening plans in the 1960's.
Upon Stevens' arrival, the MTA let out contracts for the initial widening from EXIT 2 north to milepost 12, including the mainline toll plaza at milepost 7 in York. Because it was an independent agency, the MTA did not seek approval for the widening from state environmental agencies. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection thought otherwise, and in 1974, the state Attorney General ruled that an environmental review was required.
In 1975, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that the MTA was authorized to construct and maintain only the original four-lane highway, and that any widening would require new statutory authority. Although this decision halted the widening project, construction was able to proceed on the initial widening project.
AMENDING THE TURNPIKE AUTHORIZATION: In 1977, the State Legislature decided that tolls would remain on the turnpike after the refinancing and expansion bonds were to be paid off in 1982. Tolls were to continue to be used for maintenance at a minimum rate of $8.7 million per year. However, but as part of a compromise to commuters, toll collection was changed from a "closed" ticket-based system (as is used on many turnpikes in the eastern United States to a barrier-based system. Under this new system, commuter traffic was able to move toll-free between Auburn and Saco. (Additional barriers were added later at New Gloucester and West Gardiner.)
At the same time, the State Legislature added language to the MTA's authorizing legislation stating that future widening projects would require legislative approval.
PLANNING NEW INTERCHANGES: In 1986, the engineering firm of Howard Needles Tammen and Bergendoff (HNTB) presented their findings to the MTA on past and future traffic growth on the turnpike. It found during the 1975-1985 period, overall traffic on the turnpike grew from 12.6 million vehicles per year to 24.9 million per year, while interchange traffic grew anywhere from 54 percent to 285 percent.
To alleviate congestion, the report recommended the construction of the following new interchanges:
milepost 14: Ogunquit Road / Ogunquit
EXIT 46 (former EXIT 7A): ME 22 / Portland International Jetport
milepost 50: US 302 / Portland
Only EXIT 46 was built among the recommendations. In the years after the report was released, additional interchanges were built at the following locations:
EXIT 47 (former EXIT 7B): Westbrook Arterial / Rand Road / Portland (opened in 2002; planned as early as the 1960's for the unbuilt Westbrook Expressway)
EXIT 86: ME 9 / Sabattus (opened in 2004)
WIDENING GETS BACK ON TRACK… EVENTUALLY: The 1986 HNTB report recommended widening the turnpike to six lanes from milepost 12 in York (where the 1970's widening project ended) north to EXIT 44 (I-295) in South Portland. At the same time, the report advised that the roadbed, drainage, and bridges be built to accommodate an eventual widening to eight lanes. The project was estimated to cost $96 million, which would be financed with a toll hike of between 65 percent and 80 percent.
It did not take long for widening opponents to come out in full force. Many questioned the need to raise tolls to widen a highway used primarily by out-of-state motorists, while others (specifically the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Audubon Society) argued that the widening to despoil the environment further. Some even thought the money raised by tolls would be better spent planning and building the long-proposed East-West Highway.
The bill authorizing the MTA to widen the turnpike passed both houses of the State Legislature by lopsided margins in 1987. However, the proposal failed initially when it was presented to voters in 1991. By 1997, with turnpike traffic approaching 45 million vehicles per year (representing a near quadrupling in just over 20 years), voters reconsidered their opposition to widening by voting in a 60-40 margin to widen the turnpike. This was the same margin by which the widening was defeated six years earlier.
NOT JUST WIDENING: The MTA hired HNTB to oversee the widening project. Work on widening the turnpike began during the spring of 2000 with the replacement of bridges along the 32 miles within the project limits. In the ensuing years, traffic was shifted onto a single roadway separated by a concrete ("Jersey") barrier while workers built wider carriageways. The turnpike's notorious dips also were filled in to improve visibility and safety; at one point near the Saco-Scarborough town line, engineers raised the roadbed by ten feet.
The MTA worked with Federal and state agencies to preserve the environment during construction. Because the project now required the construction of 12-foot-wide shoulders (instead of the ten-foot-wide shoulders planned during the late 1980's and early 1990's), the project required the acquisition of 30 additional acres, some of which were wetlands. To compensate for the loss, the MTA acquired an abandoned gravel pit and converted it into 115 acres of wetlands, and restored an additional 200 acres of wetlands. Work crews also recycled 360,000 cubic yards of material on-site and reused the material for the project.
Work crews also rebuilt EXIT 32 (ME 111) in Biddeford. The interchange was redesigned such that the ramps and acceleration-deceleration lanes met current safety standards. Prior to reconstruction, the interchange had a history of accidents and truck rollovers blamed on the mix of high speeds and tight ramp curvatures.
Engineers even took steps to protect the dead. Along the northbound roadway at milepost 25 is the Hatch-Mitchell Cemetery, which was used by the two families from the late 1700's to the late 1800's. Although the widened highway is within five feet of the graveyard, work crews took care not to disturb the site. The MTA weather-treated the headstones, repaired granite posts, and improved the landscaping. During each winter, work crews install a chain-link fence to protect the graveyard from snowplows.
After five years of detours and congestion, the widening project was completed in October 2004 at a cost of $135 million.
This 2005 photo shows the northbound Maine Turnpike (I-95) approaching EXIT 75 (US 202 / ME 4 / ME 100) in Auburn. (Photo by Alex Nitzman, www.aaroads.com.)
THE TURNPIKE TODAY: The Maine Turnpike carries approximately 70,000 vehicles per day (AADT) along the southerly stretch from Kittery to South Portland, about 45,000 vehicles per day from South Portland north to Falmouth, about 30,000 vehicles per day from Falmouth north to the Lewiston-Auburn area, and about 20,000 vehicles per day from the Lewiston-Auburn north to Augusta. Approximately 76 percent of this traffic is comprised of passenger vehicles. According to Toll Roads Newsletter, the Maine Turnpike generates about $75 million in revenue annually.
In 2004, US Senator Olympia Snowe formerly re-designated four miles of I-95 north of EXIT 109 (US 202 / ME 100) as an extension of the Maine Turnpike in conjunction with the opening of the new EXIT 113 (ME 3) and the "Augusta Third Bridge" project. The re-designation, which was supported by the Maine State Legislature, allowed trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds (empty weight) to bypass Augusta entirely from the end of the existing turnpike at EXIT 109 to the new EXIT 113. Since Maine's toll-free Interstate highways still have a weight limit of 80,000 pounds, northbound trucks must leave I-95 at EXIT 113, though Snowe and other Maine legislators on the state and Federal levels have proposed that Maine be allowed to set its own weight limit. (Surrounding states and provinces have higher weight limits that were grandfathered into their freeway networks.) No tolls were added to the four-mile-long extension.
That year, the MDOT also converted the state's sequential exit numbering system still used in many Northeast states to the more commonly used mileage-based system. Exits were converted along all freeways in Maine, including the Maine Turnpike. At the same time, the I-495 designation along the Falmouth-Gardiner segment of the turnpike was given the I-95 designation, providing a single route number for the entire length of the turnpike. The existing free I-95 "coastal route" was given an extended I-295 designation, while the Falmouth Spur received a "secret" I-495 designation.
Subsequent to the opening of the new EXIT 113, the MTA released a ten-year action plan to improve the turnpike after the widening was completed. Some highlights of the 2004-2013 program were as follows:
The six-lane widening would be extended north to EXIT 52 (I-495 / Falmouth Spur).
The existing York toll plaza would be relocated (and possibly expanded) to improve horizontal and vertical visibility. The existing toll plaza is at the bottom of a 2,500-foot-long hill with a five percent downgrade, making it a hazard for runaway trucks.
Ramps and acceleration-deceleration lanes would be rebuilt at EXIT 45 (US 1 / South Portland), EXIT 52 (I-495 / Falmouth Spur), EXIT 63 (US 202 / Gray), EXIT 75 (US 202 / Auburn), and EXIT 80 (ME 196 / Lewiston).
Existing bridges would be rebuilt between milepost 44 and milepost 109.
The MTA is considering an expansion of EXIT 113 to connect the interchange with Old Belgrade Road and ME 27 (Civic Center Drive) to the north. The expansion is proposed ostensibly to serve the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care, which opened subsequent to the opening of EXIT 113. Plans for the interchange still are under development, though one or more ramps at EXIT 112 may be closed if this plan is enacted.
The Maine Turnpike joined the EZ-Pass regional electronic toll collection network in February 2005. Prior to this date, the MTA used the "Trans Pass" system - which was not interoperable with the more widely used EZ-Pass network - for several years.
This 2005 photo shows the southbound Maine Turnpike (I-95) approaching EXIT 103 (I-295) in Gardiner. This interchange was known as EXIT 14B until 2004. Note that I-95 now continues along the length of the Maine Turnpike, while the former "free I-95" is now I-295. (Photo by Alex Nitzman, www.aaroads.com.)
EXTEND THE WIDENING: The six-lane widening should be extended north from EXIT 44 (I-295) in South Portland to EXIT 52 (I-495 / Falmouth Spur) to help relieve congestion along not only the I-95 turnpike mainline, but also I-295 through downtown Portland. The Greater Portland Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) also recommended this proposal in its 20-year plan, "Destination Tomorrow."
HIGH-SPEED TOLLS: Rebuilt toll plazas at York, New Gloucester, and West Gardiner should have dedicated lanes for EZ-Pass users traveling at highway speeds.
SOURCES: "New Maine Highway" by Frank L. Kluckhohn, The New York Times (6/01/1947); "New Maine Turnpike Awaits Summer Motorists" by Karl Kohrs, The New York Times (5/02/1948); "Turnpike Revenues Below Expectations," The New York Times (2/01/1949); "Maine Turnpike Commission Plans To Retire Debt, Finance Expansion," The New York Times (11/27/1952); "Second Turnpike Link To Open in Maine," The New York Times (12/04/1955); "Highway to Controversy: The Maine Turnpike and the Way Life Should Be" by Charles S. Colgan, Maine Policy Review (October 1997); "Widening the Maine Turnpike" by Charles S. Colgan, University of Southern Maine-Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service (1997); "Turnpike Widening Looms, but Former Foes Are Silent" by Andrew D. Russell, The Portland Press-Herald (7/26/1999); "Possible Solution: Add a Third Lane," The Portland Press-Herald (10/08/1999); "I-295 Report Envisions Changes To Improve Flow" by David Connerty-Marin, The Portland Press-Herald (2/07/2001); "The Worst Stretch" by Kelley Bouchard, The Maine Sunday Telegram (4/29/2001); "New Turnpike Lanes Ready To Open" by Grace Murphy, The Portland Press-Herald (9/25/2003); Maine Turnpike Authority: 10-Year Planning Report (2004-2013), Maine Turnpike Authority (2003); "Road Restrictions Irk Truckers" by Marci Hait, The York Weekly (2/25/2004); "After Five Years and $135 Million, Turnpike Widening Is Complete," The Portland Press-Herald (10/17/2004); "Maine Turnpike Manages Tough Switch To EZ-Pass Plus Toll Hike" by Peter Samuel, Toll Roads News (2/18/2005); "Maine's Interstate Highway System: An Investment in Safety, Mobility, and Prosperity," Maine Department of Transportation (2006); Steve Alpert; Stéphane Dumas; Eric D. Bryant; Cameron Kaiser; Douglas Kerr; Scott Oglesby; Alexander Svirsky.
I-95 and I-495 shields by Ralph Herman. Maine Turnpike shield by Maine Turnpike Authority. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.