PORTLAND – A 4-foot-deep sinkhole that opened on Interstate 295 Wednesday caused a traffic jam that stretched from Tukey’s Bridge in Portland to Exit 4 in South Portland.

The Maine Department of Transportation scrambled to patch the hole in time for the evening commuter rush on one of Maine’s most heavily traveled roads.

But hundreds of drivers were delayed on I-295 northbound over the course of about three hours Wednesday afternoon.

“We certainly appreciate the patience of the drivers while we addressed this problem,” said Herb Thomson, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation.

Thomson said a crew supervisor discovered a “depression” Wednesday morning in a northbound lane of I-295 about 200 feet north of the Franklin Street Exit 7 on-ramp in Portland.

Traffic cones were set up around the hole at 12:30 p.m., forcing the closure of one lane. Shortly after 1 p.m., the state closed a second lane, leaving only the third lane open to northbound traffic.

One lane wasn’t enough. Thomson said traffic backed up for three miles, winding past Hadlock Field and the Portland International Jetport runway, all the way to the Main Street exit in South Portland.

“This is one of the of the busiest stretches of road in Maine,” Thomson said. The area where the sinkhole opened — just before Tukey’s Bridge — carries an average of more than 35,000 vehicles a day.

Thomson said the hole was 2 feet in diameter and more than 4 feet deep. He said material that supported a culvert under the road gave way, the culvert collapsed and the hole opened in the road.

Thomson said the sinkhole was repaired by about 3:34 p.m., but more work will have to be done before the problem can be fixed permanently.

“Our objective was to get this done as quickly as possible,” he said.

Repair crews returned to the road late Wednesday night to do more stabilization, but at some point the culvert will have to be replaced.

In the next week, the state will fill the culvert with concrete to prevent future problems.

Unlike Wednesday’s problem, the replacement of the culvert should be fairly routine, Thomson said.

The state will bore a hole under I-295 and insert a new culvert. Traffic won’t be disrupted because all the work will be done under the road while traffic passes over it.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]