Highway repairs that have challenged drivers in the Portland area since June are scheduled to wrap up for the year on Dec. 18, the Maine Department of Transportation said Friday.

The Interstate 295 repaving and repair project has been extended more than once as crews have uncovered worse-than-expected damage on numerous overpasses from Scarborough to Freeport.

Last month, the Department of Transportation said the work would end next week. Even with additional workdays announced Friday, the need for unexpected concrete work and bridge repairs means the project will resume after this winter.

The $21 million project was originally supposed to be completed this year.

“The plan is to get back there early in the spring and finish before the summer tourist season next year,” said Mark Latti, spokesman for the Department of Transportation.

The project has tested the patience of commuters, with traffic backups, shifting lane closures and access ramps that have been out of service for months.

Workers have been repaving the northbound lanes from Falmouth to Freeport, and the southbound lanes from Falmouth to Scarborough. They also have been doing maintenance and repaving on bridges and installing new guardrails to prevent vehicles from crossing the median.

The repaving has gone as expected, but not the bridge repairs.

“The deterioration in the (bridges) was more than what we had planned for,” Latti said.

Crumbling concrete beneath the road surface had to be removed and replaced, a process that takes longer and requires more traffic disruptions than simple repaving.

Commuters from the south and the north have been affected, as have Portland residents in the neighborhoods around the highway.

Commuters from Falmouth, for example, could not use the southbound on-ramp from Veranda Street in Portland leading to Tukey’s Bridge. That sent extra traffic through Portland’s East Deering neighborhood.

Signs at the ramp indicated it would reopen in late July, then mid-September, then Oct. 20.

The Veranda Street ramp finally reopened Friday.

“(Traffic) has been coming through the neighborhood and it’s been difficult for people to get out of the side streets onto Veranda,” said Sandra Donahue, a member of the East Deering Neighborhood Association. “It’s been the talk of the neighborhood.”

But the ramp is open now, “so people are happy,” she said.

Latti said the Veranda Street ramp couldn’t reopen sooner because it would have brought traffic directly into the bridge reconstruction zone.

“Without a doubt, that’s the one that inconvenienced people the most,” he said.

There were accidents in the construction zone, including a camper that struck a traffic divider north of Portland in September and rolled over. But police said the overall rate of accidents didn’t change significantly, given all the construction.

Through all of the bridge repairs, the extended work schedule and the traffic delays, the project has made significant improvements to the highway, according to the Department of Transportation.

More than 43 lane-miles have been resurfaced, eliminating grooves that trapped water on the roadway.

Ten bridges have been repaired and resurfaced and won’t need repairs again for 15 to 20 years. And more than 10 miles of guardrails have been installed, including median barriers where there was nothing physically separating northbound and southbound traffic.

“The new additional guardrail systems have already proven themselves, with two instances of vehicles being prevented from crossing the median — one a car and the other a tractor-trailer that was stopped by the new cable guardrail,” said Bradford Foley, highway program manager for the department.

The cable guardrail is an especially big improvement north of Portland, where there has been a history of crossovers. “It has really made it a safer stretch of road,” Latti said.

Much work will remain next spring, including more repaving through Portland.

Because of the need for extra repairs and rescheduling of work to avoid more traffic delays, only 10 of the 23 bridge crossings, southbound and northbound, have been completed this year.

Repairs to the southbound lanes of the Presumpscot River Bridge and Tukey’s Bridge, for example, were postponed to next year because of traffic congestion concerns.

It’s unclear what all of the extra work and time will mean for the project’s budget. Latti said the state is negotiating with the contractors.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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