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Gorham Connector FAQs

1. Hasn’t COVID-19 decreased traffic in the region? Is a new road necessary?

Traffic numbers all over the state decreased in 2020 because of Covid-19 and the early April 2020 stay-at-home order. The low mark was in early April 2020, when traffic volumes on the Overlap (where Routes 22 and 114 overlap in Scarborough/Gorham) dropped to one-half of where they had been the previous year. But as of February of 2021, traffic had rebounded to near or above pre-pandemic levels in Cumberland County.
 
Residential growth continues strong in the region – this commuting corridor has been operating over capacity since the early 1990s. 

2. How current is the data MTA is using to for their analyses?
 
The 2012 Gorham East-West Study data was used as a starting point for current analyses. All traffic, economic, and environmental data has been updated as part of the Alternatives Analysis process that started in 2018 and should be completed this year.

3. Do the host municipalities support the project?

The four host municipalities (Gorham, Westbrook, South Portland, and Scarborough) are the ones asking for this project. Their select boards and councils confirmed their support again in January and February of this year with a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). Residents have voted to approve Comprehensive Plans that spell out what they want their communities to look like, which is less traffic-intensive and more village center-oriented. In discussion, all the communities’ economic development directors agree that a new road would take commuter and truck pressure off existing state roads, reduce commuter use of residential roads and neighborhoods, and allow safer use of downtowns by bicyclists and pedestrians.
 
4. How are municipalities involved?
 
The four municipalities most immediately affected – Gorham, Scarborough, Westbrook, and South Portland – are committing to working with MTA on the planning process for the Connector, helping to create public understanding of the project, and promoting land use strategies that are effective in making the road sustainable for the long term. All four select boards/city councils unanimously voted to approve and have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to that effect, as shown below.
 
Below is the exact language in the signed MOA:
 
  1. appoint a representative to an Advisory Committee to guide development of the Gorham Connector
  2. explain publicly the benefits of the Gorham Connector as part of an integrated solution to safety and mobility needs of the region, participate in public forums and explain relevant land use goals contained in comprehensive plans
  3. support and explain the results and recommendations of studies and agreements, including specific transportation and land use management strategies
  4. cooperate with other parties to this Agreement and with those who may join as partners
  5. seek to preserve the effectiveness and sustainability of transportation investments by promoting compatible land use management strategies

5. Won’t a new road lead to more development?
 
Road projects that increase capacity raise legitimate questions about their intended and unintended effects on land use. For example, intended effects could be economic development growth and desirable land use change. Unintended effects can include sprawl-type development, occurring even some distance from the project because of the easier access.
 
Land use changes and growth in this region have already been occurring and are likely to continue even without improved traffic access. But to help communities better understand potential changes, MTA is planning to conduct an analysis using an integrated transportation-land use modeling approach. This analysis will determine more exactly if sprawl-type growth would occur, and if so, how much and where, giving municipalities the information they need to plan accordingly.
 
This information will be invaluable in helping municipalities manage and direct growth in a way that reflects community values.
 
6. How will the connector affect greenhouse gas emissions? VMT? VHT? How does the project consider Maine Won’t Wait climate goals?
 
For all alternatives – including doing nothing (No Build) and widening the existing roads (Widen Roadway Alternatives) – carbon dioxide emissions (CO2e), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and volatile organic compounds (VOC) were modeled for 1) existing 2020 conditions, 2) projected opening year (2030), and 3) design year (2050) conditions. The modeling used EPA’s MOVES, a transportation industry standard. The MOVES analysis demonstrated that a new road decreases operational GHG emissions by approximately 3% compared to the No Build or Widen Roadway alternatives. This 3% reduction will contribute to Maine’s overall goal of reducing emissions to 45% below pre-1990 levels by 2030 (Maine Won’t Wait, 2020). 

7. How does transit factor into MTA decisions? Are there logical transit connections? New Park and Ride lots?
 
MTA has no jurisdiction over transit. However, using the new road for bus transit and adding new Park and Ride lots will likely be part of the community discussion. The project is not taking place in a vacuum; other regional transit studies have been completed (Transit Tomorrow, Transit Together, Maine Mall Transit-Oriented Development) or are about to be underway (Gorham Westbrook Portland Rapid Transit Study) that will contribute to understanding how to fold the road into the region’s goal of expanding transit.
 
8. Why is the MTA purchasing land for this project now?

Development pressures are strong in this region, and MTA is talking with landowners now about purchasing select parcels of land in order to keep options open for a new road. Once land is developed into residential or commercial uses, it is more expensive – and sometimes impossible – to purchase land for a new road corridor without disrupting existing development. Purchasing properties now means that a viable route will be available should the decision be made to build. Should the decision go the other way, MTA would simply sell the land on the open market.
 
 

1. Is there a more environmentally sustainable solution than a new road?

There are additional solutions that, together, will contribute to keeping traffic congestion more manageable over the long term. The first is increasing transit opportunities so that people who commute can choose not to drive their own vehicle. For this corridor, the most immediate solution is expanding bus service.  A new road would make quicker, more direct bus service realistic since currently buses are subject to the same traffic slowdowns as individual commuters.
 
Second, to help make transit service more effective, land use planning by the communities that includes housing clustered in areas that can be served by transit will make transit more financially viable. This kind of planning is already included in multiple communities' Comprehensive Plans. These two solutions, combined with either a new road or widening existing roads, were determined to be long-term sustainable solutions by the 2012 Gorham East-West Study. A copy of this study is available here.
 
2. Why not just widen existing roads?

Widening the existing roads is under evaluation. But comprehensive plans for Gorham and Scarborough, the towns most affected, both support a new road since the communities envision village-type development in this area – and current traffic levels are unsafe for these kind of walkable, bikeable neighborhoods. Analysis also shows that a widened road can carry less traffic and will reach capacity much more quickly than a new road. Finally, MaineDOT has stated that they do not have the budget for a multiple-road widening project of this size and scope.

3. What will the road cost?
 
Until the design is finalized, there is no way of knowing what the cost will be. This project has been given the go-ahead by MTA’s Board subject to remaining financially viable and being able to secure a permit.
 
4. Why MTA? Why not MaineDOT? Why not federal infrastructure funds?
 
MaineDOT has indicated they do not have sufficient current funding to implement the only solution open to them: widening multiple existing roads. MTA is a quasi-state agency responsible for the Maine Turnpike and funded entirely by tolls. It is a separate entity from MaineDOT, which is part of state government and funded by state and federal tax dollars. MTA is not eligible to receive any federal or state funds, including federal infrastructure funds, and so will fund the project using toll revenues. 
 
5. Why do there have to be tolls?
 
Tolls, paid by people who choose to use the road, will pay for its construction. Those who don’t want to pay the toll can continue to travel on the same state and local roads.
 
6. How will the connector affect traffic on local roads?
 
Detailed traffic projections show that the new road will take upwards of 50% of traffic off the busiest local roads in Gorham as soon as it opens, with a 30% reduction in vehicles on the busy overlap section of Routes 22/114.  The new roadway will have the capacity to handle projected vehicle traffic in the region into the next century.
 
7. Will bike/pedestrian access be included on the new road?
 
Bike lanes or pedestrian walkways are not permitted on any limited access roads as a matter of safety. But creating an adjacent bike or pedestrian pathway is possible, as is expanding recreational trails in the area. These could be considered in coordination with other agencies or organizations as a recommendation from a community Advisory Committee.
 
8. Who will issue permits for the project?
 
The Army Corps of Engineers has lead responsibility in terms of federal permitting for the new road; the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the lead on state permitting. The Gorham Connector will require approvals under Sections 401 and 404 of the federal Clean Water Act as well as Maine’s Natural Resources Protection Act and Construction General Permit. The Stormwater Memorandum of Agreement between DEP, MaineDOT, and MTA will consider stormwater treatment measures for the new roadway.
 
9. How will MTA mitigate for wetland/habitat impacts?
 
The Gorham Connector is in the early stages of design; avoidance and minimization measures are currently being evaluated. But, working with state and federal environmental regulators, MTA will likely propose a blend of projects, as well as the use of Maine’s in lieu fee program.  Regardless, mitigation will be focused on the project area. 

1.  How can the public comment on this project?

The public can make comments or ask questions right now via the Questions/Comments box on the project home page (click here)

Once a preferred alignment is identified, MTA will be reaching out to regional stakeholders, including representatives from municipalities, land trusts and trail builders, and transit and housing leaders to start discussions on how the new road could improve area transportation, and to support planning discussions around adjacent land use. MTA will also be creating a volunteer community Advisory Committee and maintaining up-to-date public information through the press, social media, and online via a customized public outreach site.
 
2. I may be affected by a new road close to my house or business, who do I contact?

You can contact the Maine Turnpike Authority's Executive Director Peter Mills at 207.858.6400 or the MTA Right of Way department at 207.871.7771.