September 12, 2011

Bridge, not toll, blamed for snarls

Tourist vehicles cross the Piscataqua River Bridge when they get to it ... if only they could get to it.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Motorists inch along southbound on the Maine Turnpike after going through the York tollbooth on Labor Day in 2010.

2010 Press Herald file photo

Erecting a curtain barrier on the upwind, upstream side of the bridge to reduce wind buffeting and discourage drivers from rubbernecking.

In another 15 years or so, the bridge deck must be rebuilt, Mills wrote. "That may be a good time to make alterations, but we need to develop a plan now and do other things in the interim."

While the Maine Department of Transportation is responsible for the bridge, the department is focused on other pressing needs, Mills said.

He said the Maine Turnpike Authority is willing to commit money to improve the bridge because it is the gateway to the turnpike. He said that reducing traffic congestion is critical to Maine's economy, particularly its tourism industry.

"This is how we are all linked," he said. "If the tourists can't get through New Hampshire, they are not going to be happy with us."

Mills, who was appointed interim executive director after the resignation of longtime director Paul Violette in March, will meet with York selectmen and state legislators from the area today to give them an update on the toll plaza project.

Before Mills' appointment, the turnpike authority was planning to move the York toll plaza despite opposition from the towns of York, Ogunquit and Wells.

For years, turnpike officials have wanted to build a toll plaza with a mix of conventional tollbooths and high-speed open-road tolling, similar to what was built last year at the Hampton toll plaza in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire officials say the improvements have eliminated significant summertime traffic jams at the tolls.

Maine's toll plaza expansion is on hold. Mills said the turnpike authority recently hired consultants Wilbur Smith Associates, a national firm based in South Carolina, to re-examine the options.

Mills said the firm will look at the feasibility of eliminating tollbooths completely and replacing them with a system in which people either pay with their E-ZPass accounts or are mailed bills.

That system, supported by many York residents, would require workers to view photo images of license plates and mail out bills to the owners of the vehicles.

The system has been used in other states, including Texas and Florida, but Mills said he is skeptical that it could be successful in Maine because so many motorists come from other states and leave Maine after they visit.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@mainetoday.com

 

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