PORTLAND – Just over 233,000 vehicles passed through the Maine Turnpike’s York plaza during the three-day Labor Day weekend, an increase of more than 5 percent over the same weekend last year.

The Maine Turnpike Authority was expecting traffic to be 6 percent below last year’s from Friday through Monday, based on a forecast by the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research.

But officials said Tuesday that preliminary numbers show more than 233,000 vehicles went through the plaza at the southern end of the turnpike, a 5.3 increase from last year.

Traffic was down last year because a tropical storm passed near Maine, turnpike officials said.

Overall, turnpike traffic is down from last summer. Traffic in 2011 is projected to be down 1.5 percent from 2010.

For several hours on Monday, the turnpike authority’s executive director, Peter Mills, waved to passengers at the York toll plaza while dressed in costumes, first as a moose and then as a lobster.

Mills, who replaced longtime turnpike chief Paul Violette earlier this year, was continuing a tradition begun by Dan Paradee, the former turnpike spokesman who died of cancer in November.

Also Monday, toll workers in the southbound lanes handed out 15,000 magnets that look like old-fashioned Maine postcards. The magnetic cards, which list 20 fairs and festivals scheduled in Maine this fall and winter, cost the turnpike authority $1.13 each.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at [email protected]