A proposed turnpike connection could ease traffic jams in the Gorham-Scarborough area, but for frustrated drivers, relief might be years down the road.

A bill pending in the Legislature would authorize the Maine Turnpike Authority to build a 5-mile toll road linking the turnpike with Route 114 south of Gorham.

The intent is to get drivers off heavily congested roads connecting Gorham, Scarborough, Westbrook and South Portland, said Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, the bill’s sponsor.

“It is just unacceptable in terms of traffic and what we accept living in Maine,” McLean said. “This has been bandied about for eight years. It is time to get the ball rolling.”

Gorham was the fastest-growing municipality in Maine from 2010 to 2013, according to the U.S. Census. Traffic on routes 114 and 22 and local streets like Running Hill Road and Spring Street is notorious, McLean said. During morning and afternoon rush hours, it often takes 45 minutes to an hour to drive 8 miles to downtown Portland, he said.

Local officials and traffic analysts have recognized the need for a way to ease traffic for years. According to a 2012 feasibility study by the turnpike authority, there were 64 high-crash locations in the south Gorham area and seven intersections that were identified as inadequate to handle traffic volumes. The report’s findings were based on traffic data from 2008-09; since then more than 330 residential subdivision lots have been created, according to town data. Population in the four communities is expected to grow by more than 64,000 by 2035, and almost 35,000 units of housing will be added in the area, the 2012 study said.

If those estimates hold, it will magnify current traffic issues, said Peter Mills, the turnpike authority’s executive director. A new limited-used highway is considered the most effective way to reduce congestion, rather than widening existing streets, he said.

“I think it is reasonable to say it is the worst area of traffic congestion in the state of Maine on a daily basis,” Mills said.

IDEA HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A DECADE

The idea of creating a turnpike spur has been considered for almost a decade and has already been studied closely by the authority.

The project would still have to go through the necessary permitting and public process, which could take years, McLean said.

“It doesn’t mean there are going to be shovels in the ground starting in May,” he said.

McLean’s bill has not been released by the revisor’s office and won’t be discussed by the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, which McLean co-chairs, until late March, he said.

According to a draft of the bill, it would give the turnpike authority permission to construct the road and borrow up to $150 million to pay for the project. The money would be repaid with tolls collected on the spur.

The turnpike authority was selected to head the project because the Maine Department of Transportation does not have the resources to fund road construction, Mills said.

“We need legislative authority to go ahead and build it – it is not part of our general mandate,” Mills said. “We just don’t go out and build highways without being told to.”

LINKING BUSY ROUTES TO MALL EXIT

Although there is no road design proposed, the idea would be to link the rotary intersection of routes 114 and 112 south of Gorham to the turnpike at exit 45, near the Maine Mall. The proposed connector was planned when the rotary was built as part the Gorham village bypass completed in 2008.

The Gorham Town Council passed a resolution in support of the project in December, and local governments in South Portland, Scarborough and Westbrook are very supportive too, McLean said.

“We have got to figure out a way to settle traffic congestion, because it is only going to get worse,” he said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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Twitter: PeteL_McGuire