– By EDWARD D. MURPHY

Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Richard Kelly, general manager of Fireside Inn & Suites on Riverside Street, just off Exit 48 of the Maine Turnpike, is about to find himself in a fix.

“The good thing is, they can get here,” Kelly said of guests who come by way of the turnpike. “The bad thing is that they might not be able to get out of here.”

It’s not quite that dire, but for about six months the inn’s guests will have to find different routes to get on their way, at least if they’re northbound on the turnpike.

Starting Monday, the Maine Turnpike Authority will close the northbound on-ramp at Exit 48 so workers can replace an overpass that crosses the turnpike.

That means patrons of the Fireside Inn and other businesses in the area will be able to get off the turnpike at the exit, but if they want to get back on and go north, they will have to backtrack onto Larrabee Road to the Westbrook Arterial and take the Exit 47 on-ramp from Rand Road.

“It’s weird. We’ll head south to head north,” said Yves Joyal, manager of Madawaska Hardscape Products on Riverside Street.

The 56-year-old bridge is functionally obsolete, said the turnpike authority’s spokesman, Scott Tompkins.

To build the new overpass in the proper alignment, workers will have to dismantle one lane of the old one. That will leave one lane open, for vehicles exiting the turnpike.

Tompkins said the other on- and off-ramps at Exit 48 will be closed briefly this fall. The southbound off-ramp will be closed for about two weeks after Labor Day, and the northbound off-ramp and southbound on-ramp will also be closed, but probably only for a night or two for paving.

The area is a busy one, with several major shopping centers and car dealers on Riverside Street and nearby Warren and Brighton avenues.

Business managers in the area say they’re glad that the work will be done so that traffic will flow in the same way it always has, but they worry that customers will be turned off by the inconvenience of getting back on the turnpike.

Kelly noted that customers are attracted to his hotel in part because it’s just a few hundred yards from the turnpike exit. Most people who stay there probably figure they can get back on the turnpike the same way they got off.

Kelly said the turnpike authority has assured him that there will be plenty of signs to direct drivers back to the turnpike via Rand Road. The authority also has distributed thousands of handbills to businesses, with an explanation of the project on one side and a map to the Rand Road turnpike entrance on the other.

Kelly, who has a stack of the fliers at the inn’s front desk, said he’s also concerned about noise from the work, especially when piles are being driven. He hopes the workers will go about it “quietly and efficiently” to minimize any disruption.

Scott Watkins, who also has a stack of the fliers, said he’s worried that customers will stay away from his VIP auto parts store and repair shop because of the hassle of driving through a work zone.

On the other hand, they may think “they can get here and spend their money and then figure it all out,” Watkins said.

He said turnpike authority officials have listened patiently to his concerns about business, but the bottom line is “they do have to get the bridge fixed.”

Closing the off-ramps will definitely hurt his business, Watkins said, but he’s grateful that the work won’t be done until early fall, after the busy summer season, and will take only a few weeks.

Tompkins, the turnpike authority’s spokesman, said all of the work is supposed to be done by Nov. 1, except for some landscaping to be done next spring.

He said the contract for the work includes penalties for the contractor if the project is completed late, and bonuses for finishing ahead of schedule.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]