August 14, 2018
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Work on controversial $40M toll plaza project to begin in the fall

Courtesy | The York Weekly
Courtesy | The York Weekly
This rendering shows the Maine Turnpike Authority's proposed toll plaza with open-road tolling and cash lanes at mile marker 8.8 in York.
By Deborah McDermott, The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — In late fall, York residents will have the first inkling that the new $40 million York toll plaza project is underway, when contractors begin to build an access road on Chases Pond Road property owned by the Maine Turnpike Authority.

After 12 years of fighting plans for two different toll plazas on the Maine Turnpike, the York Board of Selectmen called it quits July 9 when members declined to appeal a Superior Court ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court. That was the final action needed in order for the MTA to move forward with its plans.

[Dispute over state’s toll plaza plan lingers on]

The new plaza will be like the one on Interstate 95 in Hampton, New Hampshire, an “open-road tolling” design with both cash lanes and center highway speed lanes for those with E-ZPass transponder. It will be located 1.5 miles north of the existing York plaza and is expected to take three years to complete.

The $40 million cost is still the operative amount being used by the MTA, said Peter Merfeld, MTA chief operations officer, although he admitted “I haven’t looked at that number for two years. With inflation, it could be a little bit higher than that. But we have a contingency built in, so if it goes over budget we can adjust.”

MTA Executive Director Peter Mills said the project has been divided into two phases. The first is for construction of the plaza itself; a second, separate contract will be awarded several years from now for demolition of the existing plaza. Requests for proposals for the phase 1 work will be advertised around Labor Day, with the MTA board expected to award the contract at its Oct. 18 meeting.

[Town, state await court decision in toll plaza dispute]

The first order of business is to build a 1,000-foot access road on Chases Pond Road land the MTA purchased in 2014 from Paul Morrison. The land is at mile marker 8.5 on the turnpike, north of the town garage and south of Chases Pond. The road will lead to a parking lot and administration building for MTA workers, but will initially be used as a staging area, said Mills and Merfeld.

According to Merfeld, ledge blasting will be required to build the road. The contractor will be required to conduct a preblast survey of all houses within a 2,000-foot radius. Workers will knock on doors before conducting the survey, which he called standard operating procedure.

“The blasting is very controlled. There’s typically not an issue,” he said.

By spring, said Mills, the driveway is expected to be built and graded. MTA spokesperson Erin Courtney said once the contract is awarded in October, the MTA will begin a “robust” communications campaign, and will pay particular attention to nearby Chases Pond Road homeowners who will be informed every step of the way.

[Maine turnpike project may help dwindling turtle population]

At the same time the road is being installed, workers will also be clearing land on both sides of the highway for the plaza, said Mills. “By next spring, we should have the width of the new highway pretty well defined,” he said. The plaza will contain five cash lanes on the southbound side and four on the northbound side.

Construction vehicles for the plaza work are going to be coming and going from the highway, said Mills. While the parking lot will be used as a staging area, the road will continue down to the highway itself, which is how heavy duty vehicles will access it.

“We’re going to try to use the local roads as little as possible,” he said, adding language to that effect is going to be built into the contract.

As the project proceeds, the first priority will be to build a tunnel underneath the plaza so workers can access their booths. In the second year of the project, said Merfeld, traffic will be rerouted around the highway speed tolling lanes in the middle of the plaza while that infrastructure is built. Once that’s done, he said, traffic will be routed into those center lanes while the cash booths are constructed.

Tolls will be taken at the existing plaza during the new plaza’s construction.

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