Sen Justin Chenette, D-Saco, said Thursday he was glad to learn that the Maine Turnpike Authority has included improvements to the Saco interchange as part of its 4-year capital plan. Courtesy Photo

SACO — A project designed to improve safety for motorists around the Saco interchange on the Maine Turnpike has been included in the Maine Turnpike Authority’s 4-year capital investment plan.

The MTA board approved the capital plan in mid-December. Included as part of it is $40 million for improvements to the Saco interchange, with the exact nature and full scope of the work to be determined, according to the plan document.

MTA spokeswoman Erin Courtney on Thursday said the work is scheduled to begin in 2022, though the design of the project is expected to begin later this year, as is the permitting process.

The project comes following a joint study between the MTA, the City of Saco and the Maine Department of Transportation, released in July 2019. The study looked at several areas including Route 112 as well at the turnpike interchange and made a number of recommendations.

Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, on social media Thursday morning said he had introduced L.D. 1390, in the last Legislative session on behalf of the Saco delegation to address traffic issues associated with the turnpike and Route 112. The bill would have provided $24 million in DOT funding for the project. The bill summary noted that the joint study had recommended the MTA invest 40 percent, the Maine Department of Transportation 40 percent, and the city of Saco 20 percent.

In his April 18, 2019, testimony on the bill, Chenette said his goal was to get the MTA to put the project in their 4-year capital plan. He requested the bill be carried over to this session — and it was.

On Thursday, Chenette said he’d received confirmation that the project was in the MTA’s capital plan.

“As someone who drives it every day, who used to live on Garfield Street, I am like you, very frustrated by the lack of forward thinking to plan for our area’s continued growth,” said Chenette in his social media posting, “with more and more developments being approved, with summer traffic headed to Old Orchard Beach ever increasing, with other communities using our interchange to get to and from work, it doesn’t seem right that Augusta has three exits and we have one. Funding was always an issue, and now the Maine Turnpike Authority has committed to our fixes in full, from their budget, without taxpayer (dollars) or local dollars.”

Chenette said the project includes opening up the exit currently dedicated to a hotel, along with major modifications to exit 36. He noted adjustments may be made in the design process.

Saco Mayor William Doyle said he had no specific details on the plan, as yet.

“I anticipate we will get an update from city staff in the near future,” he said.

The mayor said he thanked Chenette for his vigorous efforts on behalf of the city of Saco.

Saco Deputy Police Chief Corey Huntress, who chairs the city’s Traffic Safety Committee, said he was glad to hear of the MTA’s commitment.

“The city has been working on determining solutions to accommodate growth and improve traffic patterns along the Route 112 corridor to enhance local access, for a long time,” said Huntress in a statement. ” We are excited to hear that MTA has allocated funding and prioritized this project, which was one of the recommendations from the Route 112/Exit 36 Area Study. We will continue to work closely with the Maine DOT and Maine Turnpike Authority to continue to monitor and mitigate challenges along this corridor and ensure the solutions recommended are the best for the community.”

Chenette too, said he’s glad of the MTA’s decision.

“While no project is perfect, while this should have been done a decade ago, I believe this is our best shot and the closest we’ve been to a solution to our traffic nightmares every (morning) and (afternoon),” said Chenette.

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