Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, is pictured Tuesday at the roundabout on South Street in Gorham where a toll road could link Gorham with the Maine Turnpike. Robert Lowell/American Journal

GORHAM — Fuming, white-knuckled drivers stuck in rush hour backups in the Gorham, Scarborough and Westbrook corridor can take solace that relief is in sight.

Transportation officials say initial planning is underway for a toll highway, costing millions, linking the Maine Turnpike to Gorham. A connector would be aimed at alleviating commuter congestion along existing state highways and traffic reduction on local roads.

“There’s no question it’s going to happen,” Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, said Tuesday.

McLean, House chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, represents parts of  Gorham and Scarborough in House District 27. He predicts construction of a 5.5-mile, turnpike connector to Gorham could start in five years.

“It’s in the study stage,” Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, said Wednesday.

The turnpike authority has a bond cap of $150 million to construct a Gorham connector, Mills said, and planning and design would cost millions before approval and going out to bond. But, he said, “We can chew gum and walk.”

The turnpike authority could file for state and Army Corps of Engineer permits in 2021 or 2022, he said.

“Although the Gorham Connector may someday help to relieve congestion on Route 25, its primary impact will be on Route 114, Route 22, and other secondary roads in Scarborough and South Gorham,” Mills wrote in a recent report to legislators.

The connector would likely pass through the watersheds areas of both Red Brook and Stroudwater River and wetland issues are being studied. “In the spring, it (the river) can look like the Mississippi,” Mills said.

To accommodate a connector, Mills said, reconstruction of several bridges requires completion and the turnpike must be widened through Portland.

In addition, the interchange at Exit 45 (Maine Mall Road and Payne Road), “a possible eastern terminus for the connector,” must be reconstructed.

Mills said contracts to widen the turnpike through Portland will be awarded next year and he expects completion in 2022.

An exact path for a Gorham connector is yet undetermined, McLean said, but its terminus in Gorham would likely be in the area of the roundabout where South Street (Route 114) intersects with the southerly end of the Bernard P. Rines Bypass that skirts Gorham Village.

Viewing the roundabout Tuesday, McLean envisioned it being reconfigured with an overpass linking the connector with the bypass to keep traffic flowing for cars from communities like Buxton, Standish, Limington and Porter.

Mills has talked with people living in the area of the proposed connector. “I went door to door in Gorham,” he said.

Citing open space in the area, Mills said a connector would take few homes. Dispelling rumors, McLean said the road is “not going over” the Gorham Country Club golf course.

Besides easing traffic congestion, Gorham Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said the Gorham connector has the potential to boost Gorham’s economic base. He said local businesses would have “quicker and easier access” to the Maine Turnpike corridor.

Michael Phinney, a Gorham businessman and former Town Council chairman, said a connector would “greatly help economic development in Gorham.” Phinney said a connector would speed deliveries of products to customers and would attract to Gorham some businesses now leery of traffic issues.

Earlier this month, developers Susan Duchaine and Dana Lampron offered to sell 70 acres near the South Street roundabout to the town for $3.25 million. “I am sure that we can all agree that an industrial park beside a turnpike spur would be far more valuable than one that is not,” a letter to the town from Duchaine and Lampron said.

In an email to Duchaine, Paraschak said the Town Council would take the offer under advisement. Town Council Chairman Ben Hartwell said this week the council hadn’t discussed the matter yet. Earlier, Hartwell said the offered site is not zoned industrial and a change to the comprehensive plan would require a referendum.

Paraschak said a connector would allow “the town to manage and target its growth while allowing people to get to where they need to be faster in the greater Portland area.”

Phinney said, “I’m really hopeful they’ll build it.”

McLean said he’s seeking a meeting with Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note before meeting with MDOT and Maine Turnpike Authority officials for a progress report. “The traffic is terrible and unacceptable,” McLean said.

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