SCARBOROUGH — Steps to improve highway transportation and off-road recreation were taken last week by town officials, but the end results could be years away.
On Nov. 6, councilors unanimously endorsed a preliminary report justifying a new Maine Turnpike exit near mile 40, at the Saco-Scarborough boundary.
Two days before that, Town Planner Dan Bacon hosted a public meeting outlining a proposed connection for the Eastern Trail, from the east bank of the Nonesuch River to the South Portland Greenbelt at the Wainwright Athletic Fields.
The turnpike study, compiled by Gray-based consultants Gorrill Palmer, could be the catalyst for more study by the Maine Turnpike Authority and Maine Department of Transportation. It cost $13,500, with funding split evenly between planning offices in Scarborough and Saco.
Saco City Councilors endorsed the report Nov. 4. The cost for a new interchange and time frame for construction have not been determined.
The 18-page report cites comprehensive plans in Saco and Scarborough, the need to reduce traffic on U.S. Route 1, and traffic congestion near Dunstan Corner and the Saco Industrial Park as reasons to construct the new interchange to U.S. Route 1, south of the intersection with Broadturn Road.
Three interchange alternatives were presented in the report, two of which could incorporate existing overpasses on Broadturn Road in Scarborough and Flag Pond Road in Saco. The third alternative calls for construction of a new overpass just north of Flag Pond Road.
According to the preliminary report, as many as 17,000 vehicles per day could use the interchange in summer months by 2035, compared to almost 14,000 vehicles using Exit 42 daily in the summer in 2012.
The DOT also funded the $150,000 study on how to complete about a mile of the Eastern Trail, a project that would require at least two bridges and carry a preliminary estimated cost of $3 million to $3.5 million.
“It is incredibly complex … but a very high priority for the town and the region,” Bacon said.
The Eastern Trail extends from Kittery to Bug Light Park in South Portland, with few gaps. One large gap exists at the Saco River between Saco and Biddeford.The trail extends to the Nonesuch River in Scarborough, but the official marked route to South Portland follows Black Point Road to Highland Avenue to Gary L. Maietta Parkway.
Dan Cote, a project engineer with the Westbrook office of HNTB Corp., said the trail extension from the river would mostly use a Central Maine Power Co. right of way, but would require a 22.5-foot-tall bridge over the Pan Am Railways tracks.
Bacon estimated the bridge could cost $750,000.
The trail is largely built along old Eastern Railroad rail beds. Granite supports for the old bridge over the Nonesuch River are sturdy enough to hold a new prefabricated bridge that Cote said might look like the one crossing Scarborough Marsh.
“It is by far the most challenging trail section we have been engaged with,” Cote said of the last connection in Scarborough.
Once across Pleasant Hill Road, the proposed trail route would skirt the east side of Prout’s Pond on land owned by the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Bacon said the work depends on funding.
“It could be one year, it could be two or three, given the lack of transportation funding there is right now,” he said.
An preliminary diagram suggests three possibilities for a new Maine Turnpike interchange between Exits 36 and Exit 42, near the Scarborough-Saco border.