The Maine Turnpike Authority, which is typically more concerned with managing its open road tolling system, rebuilding exits, and keeping the highway between Kittery and Augusta safe for travelers, took a few moments to celebrate its achievements Wednesday.

Erin Courtney, spokeswoman for the MTA, said the highway held a 70th birthday party at its Portland headquarters. The highway opened on Dec. 13, 1947.

After former Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Court, Daniel Wathen – he serves as chairman of the MTA’s board of directors – cut a gigantic 70th birthday cake inscribed with “New England’s Original SuperHighway,” the staff delivered cupcakes to all of the organization’s toll takers and maintenance yard workers.

“We had to do something at 70 years,” Courtney said. “It was a good time to remind people why we exist.”

Engineers have nearly finished what the headline called the ‘Hall Carpet Into Maine.’ They hoped for an opening to the extension to the Maine Turnpike to be December 1. The new section of 66 miles of superhighway featured different bridge design and a center that was concave, not convex. This photo shows the Portland-Westbrook interchange with Brighton Ave. in the foreground leading, left, to Westbrook and, right, to Portland. The City Hospital is shown on the right. Caption published in the Nov. 6, 1955 Telegram. Portland Press Herald photo courtesy Portland Public Library Special Collections and Archives

“With 70 years of history, more when you consider the Legislature created the Maine Turnpike Authority in 1941, it is important to remember the thousands of Maine people whose hard work is responsible for the Turnpike of today,” Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Peter Mills said in a statement.

During the birthday party, staff shared old photographs, postcards and memories. One postcard, which was posted on the MTA’s Facebook page, read, “When the Maine Turnpike opened on 12/13/47, driving 60 mph was a first for most drivers. And Maine’s first mile-a-minute highway.”

Courtney said before the 47-mile-long turnpike opened it took drivers as much as a half day to drive on Route 1 from Kittery to Portland.

“The Turnpike was Maine’s first roadway with a posted 60 mph speed limit. Few New Englanders in 1947 had ever driven that fast,” the MTA said in a release.

In 1956, the turnpike was extended 66 miles from Portland to Gardiner, including the four-mile-long Falmouth spur.

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

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