An ambitious freeway construction project that will close Maine’s busiest stretch of freeway for more than three days begins this week.
The Maine Department of Transportation has spent years preparing motorists for the closure of Interstate 295 between Portland and Falmouth and Veranda Street, which runs under the freeway. Traffic will be banned from the roads while an aging road overpass is demolished and replaced in a rapid-fire operation.
“It’s definitely not something we do every day; this is unprecedented in terms of the type of work and the nature of the Interstate Highway that carries so much traffic through our state’s largest city,” said Paul Merrill, director of communications for the Department of Transportation at the state.
Veranda Street will be closed for a week starting Monday. I-295 between exits 9 and 10 will close at 7 p.m. Friday and reopen at 11 a.m. Monday, April 25. Motorists should avoid the area entirely during construction, the department said.
Even with multiple public meetings, regular media coverage, paid TV, radio and print ads, and direct mail to Portland and Falmouth residents, Merrill suspects some drivers didn’t get the news.
“I think no matter how strong our awareness efforts, unfortunately some people didn’t get the message. But we want to minimize that number as much as possible,” Merrill said.
About 53,000 motor vehicles use the five-mile stretch of the four-lane highway between Portland and Falmouth each day. Even though traffic is generally lower on weekends, the closure is expected, this will create major disruptions.
“So many people use this corridor. This is arguably one of the most important stretches of road in the state,” Merrill said.
Construction giant Cianbro has 64 hours to demolish and rebuild the I-295 bridge over Veranda Street. The 60-year-old bridge has exceeded its useful life and is deteriorating. It is classified as structurally deficient. The replacement costs $20.8 million.
Working on a super-thin timeline, workers will destroy the existing bridge, remove the rubble, then use massive self-propelled transporters to lift a pre-engineered bridge deck in place of the old span.
Veranda Street will be closed to motor vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle traffic on Monday. The street must close so the carriers, carrying the new bridge, can move into place and test, Merrill said.
Then Friday night, the real work begins. Shortly after the highway is closed, several construction vehicles equipped with hoe jacks – essentially huge jackhammers – will begin demolishing the old bridge. “The demolition is going to be extremely loud and extremely disruptive,” Merrill said.
Once the rubble has been removed, transporters will put two bridge sections into place – each 80 feet long, 47 feet wide and weighing 400 tons. Carriers travel up to 3 miles per hour fully loaded and must lift the deck plates 8 feet in the air to get into place. The whole operation should take about six hours, Merrill said.
The replacement is expected to be completed and the highway reopened to traffic by mid-morning April 25. There’s no indication the schedule will change, Merrill added. Cianbro’s contract has financial incentives for finishing on time or faster and financial penalties if he misses the deadline.
“According to the contract, they have until 2 p.m. Monday to delay for a week because of the weather,” Merrill said. “At this point, severe weather like a hurricane would be the only reason to push this back for another weekend.”
A major overhaul of Veranda street will accompany the replacement of the bridge. A confusing and dangerous jumble of freeway ramps and one-way traffic lanes surrounding the underpass of the bridge will be replaced by two single and streets wide enough to accommodate sidewalks and bike lanes. Construction of the project is expected to be completed in November.
While the bridge is being constructed, all through traffic must detour off the Maine Turnpike and return to I-295 using the Falmouth Spur.
Northbound traffic on I-295 and Route 1 will be diverted to the exit ramp at Exit 9 toward Falmouth. Vehicles can connect to the highway and northern communities via Route 1.
Southbound vehicular traffic will be diverted to Bucknam Road in Falmouth, then south on Middle Road to Ocean and Washington Avenues for connection to I-295 south.
State transportation engineers notified Google and Waze of the detours and closure to ensure GPS apps are accurate, Merrill said.
The transportation department wants the public to stay away from the construction zone, but has a live stream of the project as well as detour maps available on its project website, verandaplan.org.
Mainers with Polish roots prepare for Easter with the blessing of Easter baskets