Maine Turnpike officials pursue nine-mile widening project

| Monday, December 11, 2006

The Maine Turnpike Authority plans to ask state lawmakers to OK the widening of a nine-mile stretch of the roadway through the Portland area. Two years ago an adjoining nine-mile stretch was widened from four to six lanes.

Paul Violette, executive director of the authority, said he also wants the agency's bonding capacity increased to pay for widening the section from the Turnpike's Exit 44 (Interstate 295) to Exit 53 (West Falmouth), The Associated Press reported.

If approved by lawmakers, turnpike officials will begin a two-year study of the proposed widening from four to six lanes. Officials will take into consideration environmental impacts and alternatives to new construction, such as extension of passenger rail service to Brunswick, The AP reported.

A $700 million capital program for the turnpike authority runs through 2020. It includes $75 million for modernization of the nine-mile Portland stretch and another $75 million for the widening, Violette said.

During the regular session that convened Dec. 6, Violette said lawmakers will be asked to increase the turnpike's bonding capacity by $125 million. The boost would bring the agency's total capacity to $485 million.

The widening project would be paid for by a toll increase that is scheduled to take effect in 2010. The amount of the toll increase hasn't been set yet.

The turnpike last raised tolls by 22 percent in 2005. Officials estimate the new increase would be as much as 20 percent.

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