The upper left circled area on the map depicts the southern end of the Bernard Rines Bypass in Gorham. The lower circle is Turnpike Exit 45 near the Maine Mall in South Portland. Contributed / Maine Turnpike Authority

The Maine Turnpike Authority will begin holding public hearings next month on new details for its proposed four-lane connector linking the Bernard P. Rines Bypass in Gorham with the Maine Mall area in South Portland.

The 6-mile connector is aimed at reducing rush hour, bumper-to-bumper congestion on state and local roads. It would “greatly relieve” Gorham’s intersection at County Road (Route 22) and South Street (Route 114) along with McLellan and Brackett roads in Gorham, which are “jammed,” said Peter Mills, executive director of the turnpike authority.

Mills, in an interview this week with the American Journal, outlined the most recent plans for the connector, which would come with an estimated $1.50 toll.

Gorham and Scarborough are the core communities in the planned corridor.

Maine Turnpike Authority’s Peter Mills and Erin Courtney, shown here at approach to the roundabout at the southern end of the Bernard Rines Bypass on Gorham’s South Street, have been meeting with town officials this month on the proposed Gorham-Exit 45 connector. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Although the exact route has not been determined, the highway would slice slice through a portion of the northern nine holes of the Gorham Country Club golf course, Mills said.

A bridge would carry the connector over both Brackett Road and the Stroudwater River in Gorham and another bridge would take it over Saco Street near the Gorham-Scarborough line. The highway would “skirt” the hayfield of Smiling Hill Farm on County Road (Route 22) in Scarborough where an interchange would be constructed, Mills said.

From there, the connector would run behind Gannett Drive Business Park in South Portland, pass under Running Hill Road in Scarborough and terminate at Exit 45. Options at the Exit 45 interchange would include heading north towards Augusta, south to Boston, and east to Interstate 295 or even U.S. Route 1.

The connector would likely take three homes in Gorham, a few on Running Hill Road in Scarborough and none in Westbrook, said Mills, who since 2019 has walked door-to-door to talk with impacted property owners.

The project is expected to cost “at least $220 million,” possibly $240 million, Mills said.

The maximum amount the turnpike authority can borrow for the project was capped at $150 million by the Legislature in 2017. The authority would pay for construction from a combination of revenues and bonding along with some additional funds from combined turnpike reserve accounts for interchanges and improvements that had $73.5 million at the end of October, Mills said.

Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook have endorsed building a connector and the Legislature four years ago passed a bill authorizing the turnpike authority to construct one.

Mills and Erin Courtney, the turnpike authority’s outreach manager, have been presenting the plan this month to officials in the communities impacted by the project. They were scheduled to meet with Scarborough town councilors Wednesday after the newspaper’s deadline. They met with Gorham councilors Nov. 16 and plan to meet with Westbrook officials in mid-December. A South Portland meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Gorham Town Councilor Benjamin Hartwell agrees that a turnpike connector is needed but is concerned its convenience would increase development in outlying areas.

“I worry that additional development to our northwest will cause more traffic through the Gorham Village to get to the turnpike spur,” Hartwell said in an email response to the American Journal.

Gorham Councilor Ronald Shepard is concerned about the Rines Bypass and South Street intersection.  The proposal links the connector to the southern end of the bypass at the existing South Street roundabout, which could be replaced with a traffic signal.  A red light there could back up traffic along South Street to Day Road, he said.

“They’re doing their homework,” Shepard said. “It’s still in the drawing stages.”

The turnpike’s board of directors will be updated on the proposal’s progress Dec. 16. The board already authorized some land purchases and some Scarborough and Gorham parcels have been acquired to ensure availability.

The turnpike authority purchased land in Gorham from developer Susan Duchaine across South Street’s Park & Ride adjacent to the roundabout. It has not bought any land from Gorham Country Club.

Meetings to hear public comments will begin next month.

The turnpike authority could apply for permits in 2022, including those needed from Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Maine Historic Preservation Commission. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will determine whether the highway will be built. Turnpike officials will meet with regulatory agencies Dec. 8, Courtney said.

Once permitted, construction could begin in late 2023 and the highway could open in 2025 or 2026.

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