Turnpike widening among several issues of interest sought in Maine

| 2/28/2007

A bill in the Maine House would allow the widening of a nine-mile stretch of roadway through the Portland area. Several other bills of interest also are under consideration in the statehouse.

Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Hancock, has introduced a bill - LD320 - that would authorize the Maine Turnpike Authority to widen a section of the roadway from Exit 44 in Scarborough to Exit 53 in Falmouth. Two years ago an adjoining nine-mile stretch was widened from four to six lanes.

The work, with a price tag of $150 million, would be done only if the Turnpike Authority determines that alternatives are not sufficient to address congestion on the corridor, The Associated Press reported. Maine law requires that alternatives to widening be evaluated to determine if they would address the problem.

The widening project would be paid for in part by a toll increase that is scheduled to take effect in 2010. The amount of the 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.

To further help foot the bill for the widening project, revenue bonds for the turnpike would be increased from $361 million to $386 million.

Turnpike officials are proposing to spend $75 million for the widening. Another $75 million would go for bridge upgrades and other modernization work, The AP reported.

Also drawing consideration is a bill - LD321 - offered by Rep. Boyd Marley, D-Portland, to increase the authority's bonding capacity by $100 million. The boost would bring the agency's total capacity to $461 million.

A separate bill is designed to relieve traffic congestion on Interstate 295. Also sponsored by Marley, the bill - LD19 - would require the Turnpike Authority to create incentives for trucks to use the toll road. The authority would consult with the state's Department of Transportation to develop "tolling strategies" designed to divert large truck traffic from I-295 onto the Maine Turnpike.

Another measure offered by Marley is intended to make a portion of I-295 a little safer. That bill - LD6 - would direct the Maine DOT to inspect and improve guardrails along two stretches of the route through Portland.

Another bill would repeal a Sept. 15, 2007, sunset provision in the state's axle weight law.

Sponsored by Rep. Douglas Thomas, R-Ripley, the bill - LD9 - would make permanent certain fine amounts for six-axle trucks hauling special commodities or forest products that violate axle weight limits.

It also would permanently eliminate axle weight fine violations during the months of January and February on most state roads.

A separate bill focuses on the penalty amount charged to truck drivers who are found to be in violation of hours-of-service regulations. Sponsored by Rep. Troy Jackson, D- Allagash, the bill - LD212 - would limit the fine for violating the rule to $100.

One other bill - LD265 - would increase the maximum gross vehicle weight limit and axle weight limit for large trucks equipped with idle reduction technology. Sponsored by Rep. Charles Theriault, D-Madawaska, the bill would authorize affected trucks to weigh up to an additional 400 pounds.

The bills are in the Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation.