Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, will be marked by heavy traffic leaving the state on the Maine Turnpike, as well as the end of an era for visitors to the state.

Turnpike staff will join Miles the Moose, the Turnpike’s costumed mascot, handing out thousands of parting gifts at the York Toll Plaza on Monday, Labor Day. Southbound travelers will receive bottles of Poland Spring and Wicked Whoopie pies as they slow to pay their tolls. The gifting tradition at the old plaza will end this weekend because the new toll plaza is scheduled to open at Mile 8.8 in York this month.

The new plaza will be located nearly two miles north of the existing toll plaza in York and will feature six, highway speed E-ZPass lanes. Though the old plaza offers cash-only and E-ZPass lanes, vehicles with E-ZPass are restricted to driving 10 mph.

The new York tolling plaza is expected to open Sept. 15. The plaza will feature six, highway speed E-ZPass center lanes – three in each direction – with overhead, open-frame gantries equipped with electronic toll collection technology. The new toll plaza also will have nine cash lanes with tollbooths – four northbound and five southbound.

“We’ll start handing out our Maine-made treats as soon as traffic builds up enough that we aren’t slowing motorists down. That will likely be around 10 a.m. on Labor Day,” Erin Courtney, outreach manager for the Maine Turnpike Authority, said. “This is always a fun thing for us to do. We really do appreciate our customers and we’re so glad we get one last chance to do this down at York.”

Courtney said the parting gifts are the MTA’s way of saying thank you to the out-of-state visitors, who have a major impact on Maine’s economy during the summer months. She said tolls account for about two-thirds of the MTA’s annual revenue.

While the gifts may leave travelers with a positive impression of Maine, traffic congestion heading south might not generate the same sense of well being.

Turnpike officials are predicting that traffic volumes will exceed 2020’s Labor Day exodus, and may even come close to reaching pre-pandemic traffic levels. More than one million vehicles are expected to use the Maine Turnpike from Friday through Monday.

Year to date traffic on the Turnpike is up 22 percent compared to the same period in 2020. As of August, the MTA had recorded more than 55.3 million transactions, slightly less than the 56.3 million transactions recorded during the same time period in 2019. The MTA set a transaction record for Labor Day weekend in 2019.

Peak travel times this weekend will occur in the northbound lanes from 3-7 p.m. Friday; in both directions from 10 a.m. to on Saturday; and southbound from noon to 7 p.m. Monday, the MTA said.

A year after the quietest summer in memory, tourism in Maine surged back this year despite widespread understaffing, above average rainfall and rising coronavirus infections.

Travel restrictions that kept many out-of-staters away in 2020 did not ease until July 2020. Coronavirus precautions limited the number of guests, diners in establishments and the kind of activities they could do. The result was a 27 percent decline in visitors and revenue, leaving employers to rely on federal aid to make ends meet.

This year is the mirror opposite. There are no travel restrictions or required precautions and swarms of travelers have clogged roads. Parks at beaches, lakes and mountains are packed. Acadia National Park had more than 1.9 million visitors in the first seven months of the year, 10 percent above the average visitor total for the same period between 2015-2019. 


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