Scarborough-Gorham turnpike connector faces 'lengthy study'

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GORHAM — After the Legislature recently overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a proposed spur linking Gorham to the Maine Turnpike, the project now must survive a needs and impact study.

“The Maine Turnpike Authority will need to conduct another lengthy study,” Gorham Town Manager David Cole said May 26 in an email.

Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, sponsored the legislation, LD 905, to alleviate bumper-to-bumper commuter traffic along the Route 22 and Route 114 corridor, impacting four communities – Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook.

The proposed toll road spur, officially known as a connector, would likely link the Route 114 roundabout at the Bernard P. Rines Bypass in South Gorham with the area of the turnpike’s Exit 45. Passage of the bill allows the Maine Turnpike Authority to borrow up to $150 million to plan, design and construct the spur.

The bill easily passed last month in the Legislature, but was vetoed by LePage. His veto was overridden 125-18 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate.

The Sensible Transportation Policy Act requires a study of the proposal.

“I think the timeline will likely include an updated traffic study to verify present conditions and then an impact analysis to quantify the effects that a bypass may have on regional highway congestion,” Peter Mills, executive director of the turnpike authority, said in an email. “In the meantime, we will continue our dialogue with environmental regulators,  including the Army Corps of Engineers and Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection.”

The path of a spur would be determined in a study.

Several years ago a $1 million study concluded that land use changes and an increase in public transit combined with more highway capacity were needed. It determined that additional capacity could be gained by widening existing roads or constructing a new highway. That study was conducted by the Maine Turnpike Authority,  Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System and Maine Department of Transportation.

The study followed the opening of the Bernard P. Rines Bypass, Route 112, in 2008 and diverts commuters and big trucks out of Gorham Village. But the bypass does not ease heavy rush hour traffic in the routes 114 and 22 corridor that connects Portland, the Maine Mall area and the Portland International Jetport with suburban communities.

A free park-and-ride lot off Gorham’s South Street (Route 114), adjacent to the roundabout, is seldom used by commuters, but is available.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.

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Editor of The Forecaster; prior reporting/editing gigs at Automotive Age magazine, Daily News of Los Angeles, Biddeford Journal Tribune; Syracuse U. Orange-bleeder; lifelong NY Yankees fan, longtime resident of Red Sox Nation.