SOUTH PORTLAND — The state Department of Transportation started making safety upgrades on Monday to a two-mile stretch of Interstate 295 in Portland and South Portland.
The scope of the work includes adding northbound and southbound travel lanes between Exit 3 (Westbrook Street) and Exit 4 (Veterans Memorial Bridge), where traffic typically bottlenecks during rush hour. The additional lanes in each direction will be added to the outside of the existing lanes.
It also includes night work to reconfigure Exit 5 (Congress Street) in Portland.
DOT Project manager Ernie Martin said the auxiliary lanes between Exits 3 and 4 are designed to reduce the number of rear-end crashes and traffic pile-ups that have become common occurrences.
“When you come off the Exit 4 on-ramp, southbound, you basically have nowhere to go,” Martin said. “If you’re just going to Exit 3, you can just stay in that lane, or if you’re going further south, you have more time to weave.”
Martin said a wire will be added to the median to prevent accidental crossovers, which are also common along that stretch. Crews will start work on the southbound lane, before turning their attention to the northbound lane.
Since the new lanes will bring interstate traffic closer to South Portland’s Broadway neighborhood, the state has agreed to fund the installation of a 3,500-foot long sound barrier along the northbound lane. The barrier, which will reach a height of 20 feet in places, will start just north of Exit 3 and end just shy of Exit 4.
South Portland has been asking for the sound barrier for years, but traffic noise has always fallen below the allowable threshold. However, a study conducted last year combining field measurements and computer projections of noise associated with the widening pushed the levels over the threshold.
The barrier is not expected to cost the city any money. The DOT is allowed to spend up to $30,000 per impacted residence, and there are 51 within 500 feet of the Interstate. The state can spend $1.5 million on the wall.
Bangor is now the only community in the state with an interstate highway
sound barrier. The wooden barrier was built in the 1990s.
Martin said the South Portland barrier will be made of a concrete and wood composite, which will cost a little more than a wood barrier, but will last longer.
“I’m not sure what the aesthetics will look like, but I’m told it will look really nice,” Martin said.
He said there will also be some night work associated with the project, which is expected to cause travel delays. Motorists should give themselves additional time to get to where they’re going or seek an alternative route. The $5.3 million project has a scheduled completion date of Nov. 29.
“I think in the end, the people that travel this everyday, (the difference) will be night and day,” Martin said.