KITTERY — Transportation officials on Wednesday further detailed the ongoing Piscataqua River Bridge and York Toll Plaza construction, currently taking place within eight miles of each other as the Pine Tree State is flooded with a record number of summertime travelers.

During a public session at the Kittery Community Center, officials further put into action the “Maine Ahead: Building a Better Gateway” initiative launched last month by the New Hampshire and Maine departments of transportation, and the Maine Turnpike Authority.

A collaborative, strategic plan and outreach push for the simultaneous construction projects, the three-agency initiative seeks to ensure the easiest travel in a tumultuous time, and capitalize on communication with motorists through the lifetime of both projects.

“This is a massive effort involving two states and three big agencies,” said Paul Merrill, public information officer for Maine DOT.

While both projects occurring at the same time was certainly not by design, officials have stated, the goal of both is to modernize and improve safety and mobility on the eight-mile stretch of interstate that runs from New Hampshire, over the I-95 bridge, and through the York Toll Plaza. Improvements will allow for easier access, better traffic flow, high-speed tolling and potential shoulder lane travel.

The $39 million York Toll Plaza project, overseen by the MTA, began in November 2018 and will bring highway-speed tolling to the state’s southernmost plaza.

The nearly $53 million Piscataqua River Bridge project, which began this month, includes asphalt surface replacement, deck patching, joint replacement, median barrier replacement, concrete patching, new railings, electrical system upgrades, and part-time shoulder use to eventually increase capacity.

Three lanes of traffic will be maintained in both directions during daylight hours from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day. There will be nighttime closures, and in the fall, the roadway will likely be reduced to two lanes.

When completed, the York Toll Plaza will feature six highway-speed E-ZPass lanes, three in each direction, and preserve the option to pay cash on either side. The construction has an expected completion date of June 2021, while the I-95 bridge work is eyed to be completed in May 2022.

Ralph Norwood, project manager with the MTA, said the York Toll Plaza generates $56 million in toll revenue annually, two-thirds of which comes from out-of-state travelers. He said the current plaza is outdated, located on poor soils, and sits at the bottom of a curve near an interchange.

The new plaza will be constructed 1.5 miles north of its current location featuring a new toll administration building and access road. The project is currently in construction phase one of three, where clearing and blasting, a York Water District water line relocation, tunnel installation and roadway widening have been completed.

Phase two, which is likely to begin at the end of the summer, will see traffic shifted to the outside on the widened portion of roadway, as tunnel construction continues and the overhead supports for tolling are built.

Jeff Folsom, a project manager with Maine DOT, said the I-95 bridge project is three-fold: preservation, safety upgrades and improvement of traffic flow. The bridge, which is nine-tenths of a mile long, was built in 1972, and designed to last 100 years, he said.

Folsom said a big part of the work is the asphalt surface replacement, which includes a water proofing membrane, “critical for the life of the deck.” The current membrane was installed in 1987.

“We really want to address that,” Folsom said, adding that the bridge joints don’t make for a smooth ride anymore, after years of traffic pounding and snowplow damage.

LED lighting will be installed on the bridge, and construction crews will make way for a potential fourth lane in the shoulder, which Folsom said is “envisioned as not all the time, but in times of very heavy traffic volumes.”

He noted the center line barrier is in “very poor condition,” and is too low to meet crash standards of today. Also, the three-bar aluminum rail on the sides of the bridge is not strong enough for today’s collision rules either, Folsom said.

Many travelers have already noticed the ramp closure at Exit 1 southbound, which is the first sign of things to come. Other exit closures over the course of the project will include Market Street Exit 7 southbound and Exit 1 northbound.

State Rep. Michele Meyer, D-Eliot, remarked the Exit 1 closures in both directions specifically impact Eliot residents. The room gave a collective sigh when Folsom announced Exit 1 northbound would be closed for some time.

“Will there be any signage on the road that will encourage travelers to stay on 95 and not try to find their way through Kittery?” one meeting attendee asked.

Folsom said message boards will alert drivers of their travel times to reach certain destinations. Merrill added that DOT “heard loud and clear from the folks in and around Kittery they don’t want people clogging local roads. We’re really pushing that message, I-95 bridge is best.”

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