By Edward D. Murphy | Posted January 25, 2021
Maine’s transportation planners are getting ready to work on construction and maintenance projects for 2021, but with a lot more questions than normal.
How will finances be affected by the coronavirus pandemic? Will traffic on Maine roads rebound as more people get vaccinated? When should the state Department of Transportation and its contractors schedule work to avoid inconveniencing commuters, residents and visitors?
The department has even coined a term for all the uncertainty: “business unusual.”
Maine Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note said his department had to be nimble to adjust to changes in 2020. Construction prices were originally so high that much of the work planned for last year was stretched out over two years.
Then, when the pandemic hit and traffic plummeted – often to half its normal level – the department found that it could change construction schedules to save money. Work done during the day is cheaper and usually more efficient, and some projects that were planned for the offseason could be done during warmer weather because the roads weren’t as clogged.
The pandemic even helped put a lid on construction price increases, and a drought allowed the department to stretch the construction season into the fall.
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Some of the major projects planned for 2021 mean that drivers in southern Maine can expect to see work on two bridges carrying traffic on Interstate 295 over Route 1 in Yarmouth, reconstruction of the Congress Square intersection in Portland, work on the Eastern Trail in Scarborough and improvements to the railroad siding and platform for Amtrak Downeaster rail service in Wells. Those four projects alone will cost more than $54 million.