Thirteen bridges and overpasses between Exits 1 and 8 on Interstate 295 are receiving extra special attention from the Maine Department of Transportation this year.
Dubbed the I-295 Northbound Project, the $7.9-million endeavor entails a complicated series of lane/ramp closures along the highway’s northbound lanes. Unlike the nearby $63 million Veterans Memorial Bridge scheduled to open between Portland and South Portland later this year, the I-295 project primarily encompasses bridge rehabilitation and involves no major new construction.
The construction project does not affect southbound traffic on I-295. The company handling the project is Freeport-based CPM Constructors.
The MDOT split the project into five “work zones.” Because construction will take place simultaneously in four zones, the MDOT recommends that motorists headed north beyond Portland take the Maine Turnpike to Exit 52 and then connect with I-295’s Exit 11 in Falmouth.
Construction details for the five work zones are:
• Work Zone One (Maine Turnpike Approach Road). Work started in April on the northbound I-295 overpass crossing the Maine Turnpike Approach Road near the Maine Mall. The affiliated on- and off-ramps will remain open throughout the spring and summer. The overpass repairs should be completed “around September 1,” according to MDOT literature.
• Work Zone Two (Westbrook Street). Construction workers started setting up staging at the northbound Westbrook Street (Route 9) overpass in March. All on- and off-ramps at Exits 2 and 3 will remain open, and as in Work Zone One, overpass repairs should be done by Labor Day weekend.
• Work Zone Three (Fore River Bridge to St. John Street). This particular part of the project will affect seven bridges and overpasses and will require on-ramp closures from Congress Street and Park Avenue in Portland.
The affected bridges and overpasses are:
• The Fore River Bridge;
• The PTRR Overpass;
• The Portland Connector/Westbrook Arterial Overpass;
• The Congress Street/Park Avenue Overpass (this part of the project shut down the affiliated on-ramps in late March, but both should reopen in July);
• The PTRR Overpass just west of St. John Street;
• The St. John Street Overpass.
The MDOT has established detours for motorists needing to access I-295 northbound from Congress Street or Park Avenue. Motorists are urged to use the on-ramps at the Fore River Parkway, Forest Avenue, or Franklin Street.
Motorists using the Fore River Parkway on-ramp will encounter a temporary traffic signal that “will help regulate merging traffic during peak hours” (3-6 p.m., Monday-Friday), according to an MDOT press release.
• Work Zone Four (Forest Avenue and Exit 6 to Franklin Street and Exit 7). This is the only part of the I-295 Northbound Project not currently under way. Work will start in July on the overpasses at Forest Avenue, Preble Street Extension, and Franklin Street; plans call for the work to be completed by late September.
David Sherlock, manager of the MDOT Bridge Program, indicated that Work Zone Three and Work Zone Four involved the overall project’s most intensive activity. “We decided not to be working on the two biggest segments of the project at the same time, which will reduce the likelihood of traffic backups,” he said.
The northbound Exit 6A on-ramp and northbound Exit 6B off-ramp will be closed in Work Zone Four. Motorists needing to access the highway northbound from Forest Avenue can take a detour on Marginal Way to Franklin Street and use the Exit 7 northbound on-ramp.
• Work Zone Five (Washington Avenue on-ramp). Work started in April on the northbound on-ramp that carries Washington Avenue (Route 26) onto I-295 just before Tukeys Bridge. No ramp closures are involved in this phase, which should be completed by Sept. 1.
Although restricted to one lane, the Washington Avenue on-ramp will remain during the project.
The highway speed will be reduced to 45 miles per hour in all five work zones. Motorists caught speeding will face doubled fines.
The MDOT has set up eight webcams between the Fore River Parkway and midway between Exits 7 and 8. The webcams update I-285 traffic information in five-minute increments. To access a particular webcam, log onto http://maine.gov/mdot/portlandits/map/index.php and click on the appropriate camera symbol.
“Safety is always our first priority,“ said Joyce Taylor, who heads the MDOT’s Bureau of Project Development. “We’ve worked very closely with our engineers in modeling different strategies for preventing accidents and minimizing inconvenience for motorists. We believe we have a very workable plan.”