Maine Medical Center is proposing to close about a block of Congress Street for eight weeks next spring as contractors work on adding three floors to the visitor parking garage.

The plan is part of Maine Med’s gargantuan $512 million expansion, which is expected to take about five years to complete and will include a new entranceway, surgery center, tower additions and a new employee parking garage.

The first steps of the building and renovation project, tentatively scheduled to start in May, would be the construction at the visitor parking garage and adding two stories to the East Tower.

Tuck O’Brien, Portland’s planning director, said any plan to close part of Congress Street will be heavily scrutinized because of the potential to disrupt traffic on a major road that traverses the length of the peninsula, and more.

“The city hasn’t signed off on that or done a review of that plan yet. We are looking at alternatives (to closing a part of Congress),” O’Brien said. “Any project of this scale is going to have disruptive impact of some sort. But the city will take a long look at any proposal to close any section of Congress Street.”

The expansion, which includes 19 new operating rooms and 128 new single-occupancy patient rooms, will increase the footprint of the hospital’s main campus by about 25 percent. The cornerstone will be a 270,000-square-foot building along Congress Street that would serve as the hospital’s main entrance.

O’Brien said part of the logistical issue with adding to the visitor garage is that the crane that Maine Med wants to use “is almost as wide as the road.”

Maine Med recently submitted a site plan application to the city Planning Board, which will take up the project at a 4:30 p.m. meeting on Jan. 23 at City Hall, the first of about “a half-dozen to a dozen Planning Board meetings over the next six to eight months” on the project, O’Brien said.

If the city allows part of Congress Street to be closed, it’s uncertain when that would begin.

Maine Med’s expansion has already cleared two key hurdles, receiving state Certificate of Need approval in September and the City Council’s zoning approval in November. The site plan review component comes next, and it includes such nitty-gritty details as design elements, construction plans, and addressing any noise and traffic concerns.

If part of Congress Street is closed for eight weeks, Maine Med would detour traffic off of Congress Street onto Forest, Weymouth and Boynton streets.

Rene Pena, owner of La Bodega Latina Grocery Store, which is on the corner of Congress and Weymouth streets, said closing Congress for eight weeks next year would be a hardship.

“Of course it would be very difficult, not only for me but for my customers, especially on Thursdays and Fridays when we have the most traffic,” Pena said. John Porter, a spokesman for MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Med, said it would be “unfortunate” to have to close a part of Congress Street, but the hospital will work with the city to complete the work with a “minimal” amount of disruption.

Porter said there aren’t any good choices logistically when adding three floors to the visitor parking garage.

“It (the garage) is completely boxed in and right up against the streetscape, there’s no patch of land you can operate from,” Porter said. “You have to put the crane somewhere.”

Porter said the north-side sidewalk would remain open throughout the construction.

The three-floor addition will add 220 parking spots to the 480-vehicle garage, according to plans filed with the city.

Maine Med did respond to the concerns of neighborhood groups this year by revising its plans for the employee parking garage. A 13-story garage planned for Congress and Gilman streets was relocated to 222 St. John St., about a quarter mile from the hospital.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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