Falmouth Route 1 construction: Like deja vu all over again, only worse

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FALMOUTH — Drivers on U.S. Route 1 probably feel like they’ve been through this before.

Two separate projects along the highway are expected to take about two months to complete, requiring one-way alternating traffic during work hours that many believe is creating backups worse than those during the previous two years of reconstruction in the Route 1 business district.

On the evening of Wednesday, June 29, for example, northbound traffic was backed up from Andrews Avenue, just north of the Martin’s Point Bridge, up the Exit 9 ramp of Interstate 295 to south of the highway’s Forest Avenue interchange in Portland.

On Tuesday, Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said the state agency has not received any direct complaints that he knows of – although that doesn’t necessarily mean people aren’t complaining.

Police Department Lt. John Kilbride said his department has received many complaints. “It has been challenging for the commuting public on Route 1,” Kilbride said.

Peter Leavitt, owner of Leavitt & Sons Deli at the corner of Route 1 and Depot Road, said his customers say traffic has been “definitely worse” than during the previous Route 1 construction project. He said during the prior project, traffic was kept flowing – a contrast to this summer, when motorists have been advised to expect delays.

“I don’t think it’s keeping people from coming in the store,” Leavitt said, “but people are more frustrated trying to get through that area.”

Talbot said the construction contract requires traffic to be alternated every three to five minutes. “The contractor does their best to hold themselves to that,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean drivers won’t have to sit through several three-to-five-minute intervals before they clear the construction zones.

Shirley Brannigan, president of the Allen, Sterling & Lothrop garden and wholesale supply company at 191 U.S. Route 1, said she has also heard from customers coming from Portland that traffic is worse than last year.

At least one person, Brannigan said, had to wait for 20 minutes.

For now, Brannigan said, she didn’t think business has suffered from the construction, since there are alternate routes.

For example, drivers can enter or exit I-295 at Exit 10 (Bucknam Road) instead of Exit 9, or use a loop connecting Washington Avenue and Presumpscot Street in Portland with Middle Road and Lunt Road in Falmouth to go around the construction.

“I think they’re doing the best they can,” Brannigan said of the construction workers.

One construction area is from about a third of a mile north of the Portland city line to just north of the Route 88 intersection, a distance of about 1 1/2 miles. The second stretch of road is just north of Bucknam Road and extends north about 1 1/2 miles to the Cumberland town line. Both projects began earlier this week.

Talbot said much of the work is road resurfacing, although there will also be intersection improvements at Route 88 and at Johnson Road. The project, being done by Gorham-based Shaw Brothers Construction, will cost $1.2 million.

Prior to the repaving project, medians were built from the Martin’s Point Bridge to north of Route 88 – which has led to another complaint.

Leavitt said he was dismayed there are now “no bike lanes at all” in that section of the highway. He noted the islands in the center of the road are spacious, but the breakdown lane is “extremely narrow,” leaving no more than a foot between the travel lane and the curb.

“It just does not seem to be as well designed as the rest of this Route 1 corridor,” Leavitt said.

Talbot said the completion date for the project is slated for Aug. 19, adding the contractor is “optimistic that it will be sooner than that.”

“It’s tough for the construction crew, tough for businesses and residents when you have one season for construction, and that’s tourist season,” Talbot said.

“We understand it can be a very frustrating time of year,” Talbot said. “All the people we have on scene continue to be as sensitive as we can to traffic impacts.”

He also said MDOT would not consider switching to night construction.

“We continue to monitor traffic … and can clearly adjust to let more traffic through in a longer pace than normal,” Talbot said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Vehicles line up on U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth, where one-way alternating traffic has resulted in delays of at least several minutes at a time during the day. The work is expected to last for about two months.

Cars heading south on U.S. Route 1 slowly begin to move on July 5. For the next two months, motorists can expect to wait in alternating one-way traffic.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.