First, small step taken for new Maine Turnpike exit for Scarborough

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SCARBOROUGH — Saco Development Director Peter Morelli just celebrated 25 years in municipal government, and has a long-term view of when a new Maine Turnpike exit may be built to serve his city and Scarborough.

“I think I’ll be retired before anything is done,” Morelli said this week.

While he may be gone before any construction is completed, Morelli and Scarborough Town Planner Dan Bacon took the first small step in the long process this month.

Their planning departments will split the cost for a $13,500 report by Gray-based Gorrill Palmer Engineers to justify why the Maine Turnpike Authority should study the need for a new exit somewhere between the Saco River and Exit 42 in Scarborough.

Bacon said a new exit might reduce traffic on U.S. Route 1, which parallels the turnpike and is used by travellers who pass through town. A traffic study conducted during the planning stage for road work in Dunstan Corner estimated 30 percent of Route 1 traffic is comprised of vehicles that do not stop in town.

A portion of Route 1 extending from Pine Point Road in Dunstan Corner to Haigis Parkway has been and will be reconstructed to relieve congestion at intersections about two miles apart, but Scarborough officials are also confronted with heavy traffic in the Oak Hill area north of Haigis Parkway on Route 1.

Road work in Dunstan Corner will begin in the fall, and Bacon said reducing Route 1 pass-through traffic overall is a goal in town planning.

Morelli said the study is needed because of congestion in Saco on the road used to access Interstate 195 and then turnpike Exit 36, and because plans to widen Route 1 between Saco and the Scarborough Marsh appear to have been shelved. Additional traffic on Route 1 in northern Saco is expected when a 300-unit subdivision is finished.

Requesting the study is a minimal first step in a protracted process, Maine Turnpike Authority spokesman Dan Morin said.

The report must show study data on traffic, alternatives for traffic control,  whether a turnpike exit fits into a town comprehensive plan, and why the authority would be justified in spending money for a new exit.

“It’s a big, big study and you have to give them a lot of information,”Morelli said.

The authority has 180 days to respond to the request for a study, and if it agrees to look into the need, there must be an agreement with the towns on how the study cost will be shared.

Morin said the last interchange added to the turnpike was one built in Sabbatus in 2004. Exit 42 in Scarborough, connecting to Haigis Parkway, was completed about 20 years ago.

The Gorrill-Palmer report might outline potential sites for a new exit, Bacon said, and Morelli said re-opening the former Exit 5 in Saco should be considered.

That interchange leads to a hotel parking lot, and Morin said it is located so close to Exit 36 that it presents safety challenges for on and off ramps.

If the authority agrees a new exit is needed, construction could not begin until environmental studies and permits are granted, so no cost or time estimates are available.

Morin said it took about 10 years from the initial discussions for Exits 46 and 47 in Portland to be completed. Those exits access the Portland Jetport, Rand Road and the Westbrook Arterial.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.