Topsham expects little impact from I-295 resurfacing
TOPSHAM — Encouraged by the way the Interstate 295 southbound resurfacing project ran last year, town leaders expect a similarly gentle impact on Topsham when northbound resurfacing begins this summer.
The project will span 18 miles from Brunswick to Gardiner and cause northbound Interstate traffic to be diverted to the southbound lanes, while southbound traffic will move to Route 201. An onramp in Topsham used in the building of that portion of I-295 in the 1970s was used for detoured traffic last year and will be used again in that way; the ramp allows southbound Route 201 traffic to bypass the busy Route 196/201 area in accessing I-295.
Preliminary work, comprising guardrails and crossovers, will begin in April, along with resurfacing between Exit 28 in Brunswick and Exit 31 in Topsham, according to Mark Latti, public information officer with the Maine Department of Transportation. The project will gain full speed and the 18-mile stretch will close in mid to late June, once schools are closed. The road is due to reopen before Labor Day.
Citing a lack of complaints about this arrangement last year, Topsham Town Manager Jim Ashe said on Monday that the detour "seemed to work well. And (the project) got done very quickly; I expected it to take another few weeks.
"From our perspective, I think things went well," Ashe added. "I thought the state did a good job of setting everything up, and I can't see why it won't be the same (this year)."
Police Chief Tim Young expressed similar sentiments. "The way things went last year we had really no issues at all," he said on Monday. "I think things went very, very smoothly."
He said he has been involved in advanced planning meetings with DOT officials, and that he has learned that traffic flow along Route 201 this year should be the same as last year. While motorists had been initially apprehensive last summer about the additional traffic on Route 201 and potential traffic delays – particularly at the height of tourist season – there were no major hold-ups, Young said.
"That ramp worked very well," he said. "That was my main concern last year. If they didn't open that ramp they would be sending everything through 196 and 201, and we just wouldn't be able to handle that."
Young said motorists should keep in mind that speed limits along Route 201 will be reduced this year, just as they were last year.
John Shattuck, Topsham's director of economic and community development, and several residents had approached the state about conducting studies to determine how traffic flow on Route 201 – particularly near Mt. Ararat high and middle schools – and on Route 196 were affected with and without the onramp.
"I hope the state will consider just looking at the numbers of cars and what the difference might be," Ashe said. "To see whether that's something that's worth looking at down the road."
State officials had expressed reluctance to maintain the onramp, for which it has temporary rights, as a permanent access point. The ramp is located partly on private property and also in the DOT right-of-way.
"In concept we can support the reuse of this temporary access ramp during construction," wrote Jonathan McDade, a division administrator with the Federal Highway Administration, in a letter to DOT Commissioner David Cole from last February. McDade added that the access point would only provide a partial interchange, calling the 0.6-mile spacing to the Route 196 interchange "substandard" and that it would degrade safety and traffic flow.
Gov. John Baldacci announced on Thursday that Pike Industries, which conducted work on the I-295 South project, was the apparent low bidder for the work on I-295 North. Pike issued a bid of $31.5 million and has a financial incentive to complete the project early, and would face a penalty for completing it late. According to Baldacci's office, the project reflects the first use of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which President Obama signed last month.
Along with funds from other sources that are already allotted for transportation projects, the federal recovery funds total about $423 million, according to Baldacci's office. Estimates from the Federal Highway Administration, as well as from the state's experience last year in rehabilitating I-295 south, showed that more than 840 jobs will be created by this year's project. Of the number employed last year, about 95 percent were Mainers, according to the governor's office.
"This project will put Mainers back to work," Baldacci said last week, "and we all know that a good job is the best social program."
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or email@example.com.