YARMOUTH — A new access ramp on Interstate 295 could deliver increased revenue for businesses along a nearby stretch of U.S. Route 1.
Between June 28 and July 3, the Maine Department of Transportation will open the $6.1 million ramp at Exit 15. Then, by Thanksgiving, the state will also open a 300-car Park & Ride lot at the interchange.
Exit 15 had been a three-ramp intersection. Now, the DOT’s project has created a fourth ramp, which will allow motorists in Yarmouth to enter I-295’s northbound lanes. The new access could create a small boost in business, business owners and others in the area said.
“I think it might change traffic patterns a little bit,” said Carolyn Schuster, executive director at Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a great opportunity.”
During the past three months, however, businesses near Exit 15 have felt pinched by the construction work. Since March, the off-ramp has been closed to northbound traffic, and Grill 233 has lost a substantial amount of revenue.
“It’s been like a ghost town near the exit,” said John Kyle, co-owner of the restaurant. “We’re down 50 percent on our lunches.”
Kyle said the exit’s temporary closure has cut off the flow of northbound tourists, who comprise a substantial number of his daytime customers.
Nonetheless, Kyle remains optimistic about the project’s long-term effect. When the newly revamped exit opens, Kyle anticipates a boost in business that will eventually recoup his recent losses. The ramp could also spur other businesses to build in the area.
“No question about it,” he said. “It’s going to make my property worth more money overnight.”
Campbell Clegg, co-owner of Maine Roasters Coffee, had a succinct outlook on the construction project, but isn’t sure if it will result in any gains.
“It’s been a pain in the tush,” he said. “My answer is wait and see.”
George Hildreth, owner of Yarmouth Auto Care – a service center and gas station – agreed that business has been slow since the exit closed three months ago.
“I can’t wait for it to open back up,” he said.
Hildreth doesn’t anticipate an increase in business with the addition of the fourth ramp, but he is excited about the new Park & Ride. Motorists who frequently park in the lot might also leave their cars with Hildreth for repairs, he said.
Penny Vaillancourt, manager for the state’s Park & Ride program, predicts the 300-car lot will be well utilized. A 25-car lot two miles away at Exit 17 is always full, she said. Other lots in southern Maine are also popular.
The Exit 15 Park & Ride location was identified as a high priority in several independent studies, Vaillancourt said. The goal of the program is to mitigate traffic congestion and improve air quality, which is especially important in greater Portland.
The due date for the ramp is Friday, June 28, but MaineDOT engineer Beecher Whitcomb predicts stormy weather may interfere. A July 3 opening is more realistic, he said.
“It’s not from lack of trying,” he said. “We’ll be out here working on weekend nights to make it happen.”
Meanwhile, the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce and the Town Council have been in talks to capitalize on the new exit – and a number of other town assets – by creating an economic development initiative, Shuster said. The initiative will be a topic at the next council meeting on July 8.
The $6.1 million Exit 15 project began in mid-February, and is being handled by Shaw Brothers Construction Co. The company blasted through a rock shelf to create the new ramp, and hauled away 40,000 cubic yards of stone, Whitcomb said. Minor work will continue alongside the roadway even after the ramp is opened.
Phil Strout, an employee of Shaw Brothers Construction, spreads wet concrete on the newly revamped Exit 15 of Interstate 295 in Yarmouth. The exit, which has been closed since March, will reopen between June 28 and July 3, according to the project’s engineer. The exit may also alter traffic patterns in town – a potential boon to nearby businesses.