KITTERY, Maine — Officials in Maine are hoping two major construction projects at Maine’s southern border won’t stop tourists from flooding into Vacationland this summer.
Contractors for the Maine Department of Transportation, Maine Turnpike Authority and New Hampshire Department of Transportation are revitalizing and rehabilitating the major travel corridor that is used by millions of people each year. Work started on the York Toll Plaza last November and a major resurfacing project will begin on the I-95 Piscataqua River Bridge in June.
“Eventually summer will get here, and I know our visitors will get here and I’m guessing people are wondering what the impacts are going to be of this project. We were worried about that, and we continue to worry, but we have done everything we can,” Maine DOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note said during a press conference Wednesday.
Van Note said lane closures are only scheduled to occur between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. if conditions permit. He added that the speed limit will be reduced, and travel lanes will be narrowed, which will slow down travel.
Officials say when these projects are done, the current congestion that occurs during summer months as people travel into and out of the state will be minimized, especially at the York Toll Plaza. The new toll plaza will feature six new electronic highway speed E-ZPass lanes that will allow drivers to pass through without slowing down or stopping.
The toll plaza generates 40 percent of the Maine Turnpike Authority’s revenue, and officials are telling people to stay on I-95 to get to their destinations instead of avoiding the Piscataqua Bridge and 8-mile stretch of construction before the tolls.
“We’re keeping three lanes open at all critical times, so we don’t think going on other routes is necessarily going to be the best way for travelers to go,” Van Note said.
When asked if the lengthy construction project would deter people from visiting the state of Maine — diverting them to New Hampshire’s lakes and mountains or Cape Cod’s beaches instead — Steve Lyons, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said no.
“We have a very extensive advertising and marketing campaign to keep people coming to the state, and I think they will continue to come. There’s something about the Maine brand that people just really embrace. I’ve heard it many, many times over the years like, ‘As soon as I get to the bridge it’s like a weight lifts off my neck,’” Lyons said.
Lyons pointed out that many people who visit Maine come from metropolitan areas and are used to sitting in traffic.
In 2018, 37 million tourists visited Maine. Tourism in the state generates approximately $6.2 billion in direct expenditures and more than $600 million in taxes to the state’s economy per year, supporting nearly 110,000 jobs annually.
It is estimated that 80 percent of tourists arrive in Maine by car. Every day, 74,000 vehicles cross the I-95 Piscataqua River Bridge between New Hampshire and Maine. In the summer that number increases to 130,000 vehicles a day.
The cost of work on the Piscataqua River Bridge will be $52.6 million and the cost to modernize and relocate the York Toll Plaza to mile 8.8 on the Maine Turnpike is $39 million.
“This gateway is our front door, our ‘Welcome Home’ sign. We need it to be safe, reliable and modern and welcoming so residents are proud to return, and visitors get a great first impression. When these projects are done, we will be minimalizing congestion and delay,” Van Note said.
To help drivers navigate their way through the construction zone, officials have created a “Maine Ahead” website at buildingabettergateway.com.
A public meeting about the construction projects is scheduled for June 25 at the Kittery Community Center from 4 to 6 p.m.