Southern Maine profile

By John Melrose

The Southern Maine counties of Cumberland and York provide Maine’s primary transportation gateway and generate roughly 40 percent of Maine’s taxable retail sales and employment and 44 percent of all real and personal property valuation. As gateway and economic engine, Southern Maine experiences a diverse demand for transportation services and those services are heavily relied upon.

It is hard to speak of congestion in most other parts of Maine, but in Southern Maine, particularly along the coast, congestion happens. Major heavily traveled corridors in this region need work –including sections of Route 302, Route 109, Route 114, Route 4, Route 9 and many others – whether it is reconstruction or capacity building. Furthermore, roads in this part of Maine are expected to not only serve cars and trucks but also pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders.

Background

Within Southern Maine, there are 1,405 miles of interstate, state and state-aid highways comprising 16.5 percent of the state road network. Interstate access is provided by the Maine Turnpike Authority on I-95 in York and Cumberland counties and by MaineDOT on I-295 in Cumberland County. These two entities share responsibilities on the I-195 spur through Saco to Old Orchard Beach. The Cumberland and York region carries 31.7 percent of all traffic in Maine off of the interstate and 55 percent of all interstate traffic. These counties are home to 36 percent of Maine’s total population. Population growth between 2000 and 2010 was 6 percent in Cumberland and 5.6 percent in York. The region added 26,451 people, almost equivalent to the gain experienced by the rest of Maine within this same timeframe.

Southern Maine’s road system

Non-interstate traffic for the region peaked in 2002 for Cumberland and 2007 for York declining since then by 6.7 percent and 1.1 percent respectively from the high points. The highest Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) for the region off the interstate occurs in Brunswick on Route 1, Pleasant Street at 33,310 in 2013. More than double this count is experienced on I-95 at the Maine-New Hampshire state line and in South Portland at Exit 3 on I-295. Of the 72 locations recorded by MaineDOT with AADT in excess of 24,000, 55 are in Cumberland or York counties.

The Southern Maine Road Network

MaineDOT’s priority 1 non-interstate roads in Southern Maine include routes 1 from Kittery to Portland and a segment in Brunswick, 4 from South Berwick to Gorham, 25 from Portland to Gorham, 26 from the Gray Turnpike exit through New Gloucester, 109 from Wells to Sanford, 111 from Saco to Alfred, 202 from Alfred to Lebanon, 236 in Eliot and South Berwick and 302 from Portland through Bridgton. Priority 2 roads include routes 9 from Wells to Berwick, 236 in Berwick, 109 from Sanford through Acton, 112 from Saco to Buxton, 25 from Gorham through Porter, 114 from Gorham to Naples, 202 from Gorham to Gray, 26 from Portland to Falmouth and 1-A and 9 within the Portland urban area. The 307 miles of priority 3 roads include such major segments as routes 5 from Saco to Cornish, 117 from Saco to Harrison, 22 from Portland to Buxton, 35 from Windham to Standish and 9 from Portland to North Yarmouth.

The accompanying chart reveals the region’s 18.7 percent share of Maine’s priority 1 and 2 roads with disproportionately fewer of the state’s D rated roads at 13.2 percent and 17.1 percent of all F rated roads. With a 15.5 percent share of all priority 3 roads, this region experiences a 16.0 percent share of the state’s D rated roads and 12.2 percent share of the F rated roads.

In 2014, MaineDOT rated 128 miles of priority 1, 2 and 3 highways in the region as D or F for “condition”, 92 miles as D or F for “safety” and 96 miles as D or F for “service”. The region experiences a disproportionate share of service issues with 35 percent of all the D or F service ratings in the state occurring in York and Cumberland counties. Note that, under MaineDOT’s rating system, a mile of road can be rated D or F due to deficiencies under more than one criteria.

Relative to the rest of Maine, high priority roads in Southern Maine are in somewhat better condition but, given the disproportionately high share of the State’s commerce that occurs in this region, current conditions should be better. As with the rest of Maine, the underfunding of MaineDOT’s pavement preservation program is evident with roads that warranted attention last year not currently planned for paving in 2015. Furthermore, in the region there are a number of high crash locations. The MaineDOT work plan addresses some of these but there are many more safety projects that remain unfunded.

As is true in much of the rest of the state, the higher priority roads most in need of rehabilitation or reconstruction tend to be on the priority 3 corridors. Examples in the region of deficient priority 3 segments are found on routes 4, 5, 9, 22, 26, 35, 91, 99, 115, 117, 136, 237 and River Road (Westbrook-Windham). In contrast to the priority 3 needs, the list of priority 2 roads with serious deficiencies is shorter and includes routes 109 in Acton approaching the New Hampshire border, 114 west of Sebago Lake and 236 north of 4 in Berwick.

The greater Portland transportation planning agency, PACTS, this year concluded an update of needs on 226 miles of collector roads within its study area. These roads would include priority 3 corridors. This study indicates that roughly 66 percent of these roads meet or substantially meet current standards and primarily require a 10 year paving schedule to be maintained. The remaining 34 percent, that do not meet standard, will require 59 percent of the resources needed for the system to meet standard over a ten year period at a cost estimated to exceed $140 million.

Of most concern are the region’s priority 1 highway needs. Route 302 west of Bridgton’s downtown to the New Hampshire Border is a largely rural section with notable needs recognized by MaineDOT in their three year work plan released in January 2015. More built up sections with needs appear on 1 in Ogunquit Village and in Biddeford just west of the Saco River as well as in Sanford on 202 east of 109 and in Alfred just east of 111 on 4/202. Opportunities to address congestion exist on sections of coastal 1 and inland routes 4, 109, 111, 202, 236 and 302 with the addition of dedicated turning lanes and more passing and climbing lanes.

The most important transportation investment needs relate to the interstate and range from long standing capacity needs on I-295 between Brunswick and Portland to safety and operational concerns on overused or outdated interchanges throughout the region. Serious dialogue needs to take place on the lack of interstate access afforded. Within the 24 mile interstate segment from Exit 109 in Augusta to Exit 133 in Fairfield, there are 8 interchanges. From Exit 7 in York up I-95 for 35 miles to Scarborough Exit 42 there are only 6 interchanges serving a much more populous area with greater economic activity. Currently, Ogunquit, Biddeford, Saco, Scarborough and Cumberland are interested in gaining further interstate access for their communities. Additionally, there are long standing conversations both in Sanford and Gorham about adding spurs to the Turnpike to ease congestion, improve safety and spur economic opportunity.

Southern Maine bridge conditions

There are 549 bridges with a length of 20′ or greater within the two counties. According to FHWA 2013 data, 56 (10.2 percent) were rated structurally deficient and 123 (22.4 percent) were rated functionally obsolete. Statewide, 15.1 percent of bridges are structurally deficient and 17.7 percent are deemed functionally obsolete.

Maine and the southern Maine region in particular continue to realize good progress in replacing major bridge structures. For example, the three major spans leading into Portland include the brand new Martins Point Bridge replacement, the recently replaced Veterans Memorial Bridge and the 1997 Casco Bay Bridge. Other major new bridges in the region include the Route 1 Memorial Bridge connecting Kittery to Portsmouth. Additionally, the Maine Turnpike’s modernization efforts over the past approximately 20 years led to the replacement or substantial rehabilitation of most of its bridges from Portland south. This work continues now to the north of Portland all the way to Augusta.

Still, some major challenges remain. The replacement of the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge built in 1940 connecting Kittery and Portsmouth is now underway. The $170 million cost is shared between Maine and New Hampshire and required a $30 million contribution from the Maine Turnpike Authority.

The Frank J. Wood Bridge crossing the Androscoggin River at Topsham-Brunswick is the subject of preliminary engineering to determine whether or not to replace or rehabilitate it. This bridge, the Sarah Mildred Long replacement and seven other major structures are on MaineDOT’s extraordinary bridge needs list where estimated costs exceed $10 million per span. Not on this list, as yet, but critical to the entire state, is the Kittery-Portsmouth I-95 bridge which will require a new deck.

Aviation, marine, rail, bus and trails

Southern Maine aviation facilities include the Portland International Jetport, Sanford Seacoast Regional and the Brunswick Executive Airport, formerly the Brunswick Naval Air Station. As Maine’s largest commercial airport, Portland receives the most capital assistance from the FAA. MaineDOT’s current work plan allocates $12 million over the next three years to the Jetport. The Brunswick Executive Airport is scheduled to receive over $9.9 million in that same period. This large commitment reflects the State’s interest in the conversion of BNAS to civilian purposes. This funding level is slightly more than the department’s planned allocation for the Bangor International Airport for this same period.

Marine transportation needs in Southern Maine are diverse ranging from further conversion and modernization of Portland’s International Marine Terminal for container shipping to Phase II improvements for the Casco Bay Islands Ferry Terminal in Portland to better accommodate passenger and freight movement. Improved boater access is also needed as upcoming projects in Kittery and York demonstrate and there remains a significant unmet need in Portland Harbor to complete maintenance dredging at private berths to remove sediment buildup due to storm water runoff.

The Portland Transportation Center exemplifies a truly intermodal passenger transportation facility with direct interstate access, connections to local trails, bus and taxi service and interstate passenger service on Concord Coach and the Downeaster. Concord Coach uses this Center as a hub with passengers arriving on their buses from Bangor, Augusta and the Mid-Coast with links on Cyr Bus Lines on up to Aroostook. A new Concord Coach service to Auburn-Lewiston is now in the planning and development stages that will also connect with the Portland Transportation Center. Meanwhile, the Downeaster is planning to establish a new station/platform in Kennebunk within two or three years, add a wye in Portland to make the connection to Brunswick more efficient and add a layover facility in Brunswick also to make this service more efficient. MaineDOT’s current work plan includes $200,000 for “scoping and design for replacement and rehabilitation” of the Portland Transportation Center in part driven by related developments underway and contemplated on adjacent Thompsons Point.

Freight rail issues for the region include an ongoing interest in reopening the Mountain Division between Westbrook and Fryeburg on to New Hampshire and Vermont. The Mountain Division reopening is a near perennial topic at the State House and some funding was raised by prior Legislatures. There is also interest in continuing freight rail service to the Burnham & Morrill food processing facility on the waterfront in Portland. B & M was compelled recently to provide a $100,000 inducement to have service continue to its site.

Southern Maine is prominent in its advocacy for trail development. The premier effort within the region is the Eastern Trail which the supporters describe as ” a combination of off-road trails and scenic quiet country roads with the vision to become an entirely off-road trail in the future”. This Trail connects Bug Light Park in South Portland with Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and is the southern Maine section of the East Coast Greenway connecting Calais, Maine, with Key West, Florida.

Summary

Southern Maine serves as an economic engine for the entire state and the interstate flowing through this region provides Maine its primary commerce corridor. The economic significance of Cumberland and York counties is growing along with its population. Promoting this good fortune is a transportation network that includes a terrific Jetport, solid marine and rail infrastructure and good intercity passenger bus and rail services. The region’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure continues to improve along with transit services. Public use, interest and enthusiasm are driving these improvements.

The interstate and accompanying arterial network are in better condition than in other parts of Maine but this relative status is deceiving. There remain numerous opportunities on and off the interstate to enhance the performance of the region’s high priority corridors. Safety, congestion and reliability enhancements are warranted particularly when the economic gain to be realized is so obvious in this high performing region of Maine.