People hollered. Officials listened.

The Maine Department of Transportation postponed a planned lane closure this weekend on Interstate 295 after similar roadwork last weekend led to hour-long backups north of Portland.

“We’re going to put a little egg on our face, but we’re willing to do that to do the right thing,” said Brad Foley, highway program manager for the MDOT.

The department is involved in a reconstruction project on I-295 northbound, with most of the work being done at night. But repairs to the Royal River bridge in Yarmouth require closing each lane for a total of two days for major concrete work.

The work was supposed to stretch over two consecutive weekends in June, but rainy weather postponed it. Last weekend, crews shut down one lane at a time while they removed existing pavement.

Despite warnings to expect delays and seek alternate routes, the work led to big headaches for motorists.

“We didn’t designate anything as a detour because it wasn’t really a detour situation,” Foley said. “We didn’t want to overwhelm any particular route” by detouring traffic onto U.S. Route 1, for instance.

Traffic backed up six miles to Tukey’s Bridge in Portland, and some motorists were delayed as much as 90 minutes. Comments posted at provided a sampling of the public’s frustration.

“(The traffic jam) was certainly more than we had expected or predicted, so that weighed heavily on whether we wanted to push it one more weekend or to regroup instead,” Foley said.

Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, was ready to lobby transportation officials to postpone the work when he learned they had already made the decision.

“There’s nothing worse than getting a guest showing up for the first time at a property after waiting on the highway for an hour and a half,” Dugal said. “Everything better be perfect.

“We do have eight busy weeks, and unfortunately, this all fell in that period of time,” he said.

Foley said the state did not anticipate such long delays because of a simple lane closure, but traffic this year is heavier than last year and fewer people than expected sought alternate routes. He met with the Maine Turnpike Authority, which said the coming three weekends are likely to be the busiest of the year.

Foley then met with representatives of the Maine Office of Tourism and the Maine Innkeepers Association to decide on a more suitable weekend for the work. They settled on the weekend after Labor Day, when tourist traffic slows considerably.

Foley said state officials will meet with the project contractor to iron out the details. The night work that has been under way will continue, he said.

The state may add temporary pavement to reduce the abruptness of the bumps at either end of the bridge where the old pavement was milled, he said.

The traffic tie-ups were a hiccup in an otherwise healthy tourist season.

“This week, when we’re talking to folks traveling, we’ve been telling people to check our website in case construction is under way,” said Myra Hopkins, executive director of the Maine Merchants Association. “I think folks who do come to the state from away expect to sail through the highway, and I hope that will continue.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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