I-95 bridge caused 19-mile traffic jam, officials say

The Piscataqua River Bridge, in the foreground, is blamed for serious traffic delays when crossing the Maine-New Hampshire border.
Maine Department of Transportation
The Piscataqua River Bridge, in the foreground, is blamed for serious traffic delays when crossing the Maine-New Hampshire border.
The Associated Press
Posted Sept. 13, 2011, at 5:23 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine and New Hampshire transportation officials agree that the I-95 bridge is contributing to traffic snarls during the summer, and they’re ready to see if there’s something that can be done to keep traffic moving.

After the Labor Day weekend, motorists heading south on the Maine Turnpike ran into a 19-mile traffic jam. But the turnpike’s interim executive director says the problem wasn’t the toll plaza. Peter Mills tells the Portland Press Herald that the real bottleneck was the Piscataqua River Bridge.

The Labor Day traffic jam prompted Mills to ask New Hampshire Turnpike officials to discuss how the states can work together to address the problem.

Christopher Waszczuk, administrator of the New Hampshire Bureau of Turnpikes, agrees with Mills that the Piscataqua River Bridge slows traffic.

The problem with the bridge isn’t its capacity, Mills said. It has three lanes in each direction, just like the stretch of I-95 on either side of the bridge. The problem appears to be human nature.

The bridge’s centerpiece is a 1,344-foot-long steel arch span, which was the widest such span when it was built in 1972. The bridge gives ocean vessels 135 feet of clearance — and creates traffic problems.

Motorists going in either direction must drive uphill to pass over the bridge, and the grade causes them to slow. The bridge also offers a spectacular view of the Piscataqua River and Portsmouth’s waterfront, which may cause further slowing.

Marshall Jarvis, a spokesman for Think Again, the citizens group that has opposed the Maine Turnpike Authority’s years-long effort to build a new toll plaza in York, told the Press Herald that he agrees with Mills’ assessment.

“It’s an incredible view” from the bridge, he said. “It just causes people to slow down.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/09/13/news/portland/maine-nh-blame-bridges-for-i-95-congestion/ printed on July 29, 2014