Maine Turnpike puts off widening project on lower traffic forecast

August 12, 2009
By Peter Samuel

Maine Turnpike Authority's ten year plan forecasts much slower growth in traffic, and as a result a widening project through the western edge of the Portland area is being deferred at least five years. Traffic on the Maine Turnpike grew steadily from around 100k/day in 1990 to an average 170k/day in 2004 and remained at about that level through 2007. But last year traffic - as measured by toll transactions - was down to 166k and this year it is heading for a further 4% drop to about 160k/day.

Deferred until about 2015 is a third laning project between milepost 44 at the I-295 interchange in Scarborough and milepost 52 at the Falmouth spur, a 13km, 8 mile stretch along the western edge of the greater Portland area.  The Turnpike is already 2x3 lanes from MP44 south to the New Hampshire border.

Lowest since 2003

HNTB, general consultants to Maine Turnpike Authority say in the draft ten year planning report: "...total Turnpike trips in 2008 were at their lowest point since 2003. And data from the first 6 months of 2009 suggests that this decline will continue through 2009."

They say 2009 will be 3% to 5% lower than 2008.

2007 traffic not to be regained until 2014 - HNTB

They assume a growth of 2.3% in 2010, but expect lesser annual increases after 2010:

"Because of declines in traffic for two years and projected slow increases in future years, the average number of daily trips on the Turnpike will not regain levels of 2007 until 2014."

HNTB use a 30th highest hourly volume from the Turnpike's count stations as "design hour volumes" for purposes of assessing congestion and likely future level of service. Traffic growth measured by 30th hour volumes has been lowest on the central western Portland fringe proposed for widening, growth 2000 to 2008 of only 0.9% v 1.6% in the southern section and 1.5% north of Portland.

As the table shows only two out of 16 sections MP44 to 52 see a reduced level of service in the ten year forecast to 2018, and only one of these is LOS E - unstable traffic verging on breakdown of flow.  

The 2004 ten year plan had all segments showing deteriorated level of service and half in the LOS E and LOS F category by 2013.

Nominally 2015

The draft ten year plan has the start of the widening project set back five years to 2015 from 2010. But officials say actual year to year traffic trends will influence when it is revived.

They propose to continue with a modernization of the MP44-MP52 segment involving  reconstruction of cross bridges to higher vertical clearances and longer spans with the abutments set back to provide for extra lanes, widening of shoulders and clear zones.

The ten year plan calls for a variety of less spectacular projects than widening including:

-  reconstruction of bridges

- addition of open road tolling to mainline toll plazas but retention of cash collection at the sides

- complete reconstruction of the southern mainline plaza (York)

- study of short spur connector roads for Sanford and Gorham

- pavement reconstruction

- expansion of park-&-ride lots

- replacement of the toll collection system beginning 2015

Otherwise it is what Dan Paradee of the Turnpike calls "pretty much bread and butter stuff."

Costs rising strongly

HNTB's report paints a grim picture of stagnant revenues and strongly increasing costs. Operations and maintenance costs have grown in the past ten years by an average annual 6.5%. Health insurance costs and higher police costs have been major factors in costs outrunning revenues.

TOLLROADSnews 2009-08-11

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