State plan for Maine Mall Road porous pavement raises questions in South Portland; work to begin in July

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The state Department of Transportation is planning a first-of-its-kind paving project to help address polluted storm-water runoff in the Long Creek Watershed.

The project, however, will impact traffic and, by extension, businesses near the Maine Mall throughout the summer and early fall.

Project Manager Peter Newkirk said the DOT will be ripping up and repaving a 1/3-mile stretch of Maine Mall Road from Philbrook Road to Gorham Road. The project is scheduled to start in mid to late July and last until Oct. 31. 

Although it is likely the road won’t be completely closed during construction, Newkirk said it will be up to the contractor to decide how to manage traffic. However, he said state officials are aware of the impact the project might have on area businesses.

“We are very sensitive to the traffic impact on the Maine Mall and Wyndham Hotel,” Newkirk said, noting the DOT would launch an ad campaign in the coming weeks. “That is probably one of our biggest issues right now. Given the state of the economy, the last thing we want to do is impact the commercial sector down there.”

Assistant City Manager and Economic Development Director Erik Carson said the city is currently working with the DOT to set up a public forum about the project. “At the same time, we can answer questions business owners may have,” he said. 

The DOT will replace the traditional asphalt with a porous pavement that will allow rain water to be absorbed through the road and into existing catch basins. While porous pavement has been used for parking lots, it has never been used on a major road. 

The nearly $2 million project – about three times the cost of traditional, impervious pavement – is being paid for with stimulus funds that have been set aside for environmental uses. 

Newkirk said the DOT decided to try the more expensive pavement because the state has very small right of way in the heavily developed area.

The project will take more than three months to complete because there is substantial subsurface work that must be done. Newkirk said crews must dig 30 inches below the surface to build a bed of gravel and filter sand. 

“It will allow the water to run right through the road,” Newkirk said. “This will provide water-quality treatment.”

City officials have expressed concerns about the project, including whether the porous pavement can handle the wear and tear of a Maine winter. If it doesn’t, the officials want to know if the city will be left to fix the state-owned road while businesses are left to suffer the consequences.

“(The project) needs to be done with an awareness that if not done
correctly, the potential problems could go far beyond traffic tie-ups
and/or damaged pavement,” Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser said.

A key factor for implementing the Long Creek watershed restoration plan, Haeuser said, is having a vibrant business sector that can upgrade systems through redevelopment. He said he hopes the project will acknowledge the importance of Maine Mall Road to the economic vitality of the area by making a long-term commitment to maintain the road. 

“One would hope, and the city manager and City Council may well require, that the Maine Department of Transportation will make a permanent commitment to the success of this important storm-water management experiment and not end its involvement at construction completion,” Haeuser said.

Newkirk said he is confident the project will be a success, because the state asphalt specialist is developing a more durable paving mix. Traditional concerns about the pavement pores being plugged with sand should not be a problem, he said, because the city does not sand the road. Also, frost heaves shouldn’t be a problem, he said, because there will be less moisture trapped under the road due to the filter sand.

“We feel confident it will hold, if not we will be in there,” he said. “We’re not going to put the burden on (South Portland) should something go wrong.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or