Engineer Recommends Short-list of Sites for Improved York Toll Plaza
—Smaller Toll Plaza Design Avoids Home Displacements—
PORTLAND — The Maine Turnpike Authority’s general engineering consultant today recommended a short list of potential sites for the construction of a new toll plaza on the Turnpike within the limits of the Town of York. The recommended sites include the existing location of the plaza at mile marker 7.3, a site just over a mile north of the current plaza at mile marker 8.7, and one slightly further to the north at mile marker 9.1. The engineering consultant, HNTB, also recommended that a “no build” option be advanced to comply with requirements of environmental permitting agencies.
Vice President of HNTB, Roland Lavallee presented the recommendations during a joint meeting of the Maine Turnpike Authority’s board of directors and selectmen from the Town of York. Based in Kansas City, but with regional offices in Portland, HNTB is among the most experienced toll highway engineering firms in the nation, serving as general engineering consultant to 21 toll agencies throughout the United States.
A new and smaller toll plaza design allows the plaza to be built at any of the short listed sites without displacing homes and also reduces environmental and property impacts at each location.
“The consulting engineer has worked diligently to meet our objective of identifying options that avoid the displacement of homes, minimize environmental and property impacts and meet safety guidelines,” said MTA Chairman Gerard P. Conley Sr. “This is just one step in a long process, but I believe we are moving in the right direction,” he said.
The Turnpike Authority plans to schedule a public meeting in York during the month of January to update citizens on study findings and recommendations and to receive public comment. If, after considering the public comment, the MTA board of directors approves the findings and recommendations, the entire study, including the short list of sites will be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for review. If the Army Corps approves the direction of the study, the MTA and its engineers will launch a more intensive study of all three sites on the short list, with the goal of identifying a preferred alternative. That preferred alternative would again require the approval of the Army Corps before the actual environmental permitting process can begin.
“With so many variables, it’s impossible to say how long this process could take,” Conley said. “We are more interested in getting it right,” he said.
The option at the existing site of the toll plaza (mile marker 7.3) does not meet the basic engineering and safety guidelines, but engineers advised that it be kept alive because it represented the best option at the existing site. That option would not displace any homes. It would impact approximately 28 acres of wetlands and would cost an estimated $56 million to construct.
“The existing site’s location near an interchange with merging traffic, on a curve, at the bottom of a hill and in wetlands makes it problematic in terms of safety, efficiency, environmental impact and cost, but we thought it was important to keep it in the mix until we learn more about the alternative options,” Lavallee said.
The option at mile marker 8.7 would meet the engineering and safety guidelines. It is located more than a mile away from an interchange, on a straight stretch of highway and on the crest of a hill. It would not displace any homes. It would impact approximately 1.7 acres of wetlands and would cost an estimated $34 million.
The option at mile marker 9.1 is also properly positioned to meet the engineering and safety guidelines. It would not displace any homes. It would impact approximately 3.8 acres of wetlands and would cost an estimated $35 million to construct.
Gateway Plaza Worth Investment
The MTA has long planned to replace the existing York toll plaza. It is operating 15 years beyond its expected lifespan and has become increasingly unsafe, inefficient and in constant need of expensive repairs” according the Turnpike Executive Director Paul E. Violette. “The plaza has made the Maine Department of Transportation’s list of high crash locations in each of the last ten years,” Violette said.
The York toll plaza is critical to the operation of the Maine Turnpike, collecting more than $36 million in toll revenue last year, more than half of which came from out-of-state motorists.
With more than 50% of the cars and 80% of the trucks paying their tolls at the plaza with E-ZPass, the Turnpike Authority determined early on that any new plaza must offer both cash toll collection and electronic “open-road-tolling.” Open-road-tolling, formerly known as highway speed tolling would enable E-ZPass users to pay their tolls by simply passing beneath a sensor at 55-65 mph. Cash lanes would still be available for less frequent turnpike users, tourists, business travelers and others who choose not to use E-ZPass, or come from states where it is not available. The open-road-tolling system would reduce traffic congestion, gas consumption and auto emissions. It would also improve safety by separating moving E-ZPass traffic from cash paying traffic that must stop at a toll booth.
Information regarding the Southern Toll Plaza replacement project, including documents and presentations is available on the Maine Turnpike Authority’s web site at www.maineturnpike.com
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