The Maine Turnpike Authority is warning motorists that it is about to begin construction on one of the most expensive transportation projects in years, a $28 million rebuild of the Exit 45 interchange, a heavily traveled turnpike exit that facilitates movement of traffic in and around the congested Maine Mall in South Portland.

Reconstruction of the Exit 45 interchange, commonly known as the Maine Mall exit, is scheduled to begin this week and won’t be fully finished until 2023, according to a news release from the turnpike authority.

Turnpike officials said the project will be designed to handle anticipated future increases in traffic volume in and around the Maine Mall, an area that is often clogged with motor vehicles. In addition, the project will result in the creation of two new ramp toll plazas that can accommodate northbound and southbound traffic, as well as a new, higher and wider bridge providing 16.5 feet of clearance over the Maine Turnpike. The existing bridge has been hit multiple times by over-height vehicles and needs to be raised 6 feet, according to the MTA.

The existing toll plazas are awkwardly designed, forcing drivers attempting to access the Maine Turnpike from the Maine Mall to drive down a ramp and circle back into traffic before they can pass through the plaza. After passing through the toll booths, vehicles merge into traffic that must criss-cross lanes to reach the southbound or northbound exits.

“When completed, Exit 45 will have a more efficient diamond (shaped) interchange, a brand new bridge with increased clearance and ramp toll plazas giving drivers a safer, more fluid connection to the Turnpike,” Executive Director Peter Mills said in a statement. “It’s also the last plaza on the pike to receive tolling system upgrades. Once all the plazas are on the same platform it gives us greater flexibility to enhance our electronic tolling capabilities – all which benefit our customers.”

The MTA said it has awarded the interchange reconstruction contract to CPM Constructors of Freeport. CPM’s bid came in at $27.6 million, according to the contract notice posted on the MTA’s website.

In addition to the interchange rebuild contract, the MTA hired Sargent Corp. in 2019 to pre-load the interchange site with gravel and other materials. Sargent loaded the new ramp locations and approaches to the new bridge with gravel to allow the materials to sit for a period of time so that most of the settlement occurs before pavement and other structures are built on top of it.

The contract with Sargent cost the MTA $14.7 million, bringing the total cost of both projects to more than $42 million.

“Because the area around Exit 45 has soils that are mostly clay, building in this environment causes an undesirable amount of settlement. By pre-loading and installing wick drains, we were able to compress the soils by as much as six feet in some locations and this work has allowed us to start the much-needed reconstruction sooner,” said Peter Merfeld, chief operations officer for the the turnpike authority.

In the coming weeks, construction crews will begin setting up concrete barriers, restriping the roadway, and shifting traffic away from the median. That work will be followed by some ramp closures in April.

The new interchange is expected to be finished by September 2022, but demolition of the existing toll plaza and old bridge will likely continue into 2023.


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