PORTLAND — Get ready to navigate another summer’s worth of roadwork on Interstate 295 in the Portland area.

Maine Department of Transportation officials acknowledged Tuesday that last summer’s traffic jams were the result of poor planning on their part. This summer, they said, a shorter to-do list and more roadside assistance should make it easier on drivers.

But it will still be rough going.

“We kind of blew it, if you will, in terms of estimating the (amount of) work the contractor could get done,” Joyce Taylor, the director of MDOT’s Bureau of Project Development, said about last summer’s work on southbound bridges and overpasses on 295 through Portland and South Portland.

Taylor Tuesday unveiled the timetable and work plans for the department’s $7.9 million project this summer on northbound I-295 bridges and overpasses between the Maine Turnpike/I-295 interchange, through South Portland and Portland to the Washington Avenue interchange on Portland’s East End. The mild weather means crews can start preliminary work this month, with more intense construction starting in April.

Taylor said some northbound work was rolled into last year’s $24 million project that focused on southbound roadwork. While that added to the overload in 2011, it should minimize the impact of this year’s work, she said.

MDOT is taking steps this year to minimize the likelihood of delays, she said, “however, there still will be some pain.”

Officials estimate that most drivers will face regular delays of six minutes because of the construction work, compared to four-minute delays last year. Those numbers don’t take into account accidents or breakdowns, Taylor said.

Construction this summer will be broken up into five work zones, with it generally only taking place in one zone at a time, so drivers won’t feel as if they’re in one long work zone all the way through South Portland and Portland.

Detour routes will also be better, with better signs. Last summer, two different contractors on the job were using different detour signs, and they sometimes set up routes that were difficult to follow, Taylor said.

Taylor said she may ask someone who’s relatively unfamiliar with Portland to try to follow the detours to make sure they’re easy to understand.

Drivers can also use the Internet to check traffic now that MDOT installed two webcams that will stream video of the traffic around the Forest Avenue interchange to the department’s website at mdot.gov.

Another common problem last year was delays when motorists would get into minor fender benders or have roadside breakdowns in the one-lane construction areas. This summer contractors will have materials on hand to help out with minor motoring mishaps, like a jug of gas for those who run out, Taylor said.

MDOT will also put up crash advisory signs asking motorists who are in minor accidents to get out of the way if there are no injuries. The drivers will be encouraged to drive to an area where there’s no construction to exchange insurance information, and state police will also ask drivers in accidents to move away from a construction zone, said Sgt. Jonathan Shapiro.

That strikes Bonnie Zacharias of Brunswick as a good idea.

“There were at least two or three accidents a week” that led to lengthy tie-ups, said Zacharias, who works in downtown Portland. Moving the cars involved elsewhere, she said “would make it more tolerable.”

Camille Shiffler, who also commutes daily from Brunswick, said she’s already anticipating that her trip home will be about a half-hour longer because of the construction work this summer.

She said Fridays, when tourists often flow into the state headed north, may be particularly difficult, but she’ll grin and bear it.

“You get used to it,” she said. “It’s the tourists — I should say non-Mainers — who make it ‘interesting.’ I’ll be nice.”

Taylor said a key goal is to not create so much of a headache that it scares people away from the area.

“Come to Portland,” she said. “You can still come here. But check the webcams.”

MDOT is also hoping work can wrap up early this year.

Last year, the work began in May and ran into October. With work starting in April, contractors will get bonuses if they’re done by Sept. 1, Taylor said, and face penalties if the work stretches beyond that date.

But that won’t be the final flashing light.

In summer 2013, crews will be paving the northbound I-295 lanes.


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