When Maine Medical Center begins its five-year, $512 million expansion project Monday, how traffic flows down Congress Street when a portion of the street is closed will be watched closely by city and hospital officials.

How to alleviate the problems caused by the closure was a top priority for planners because of the potential for substantial traffic backups on the Portland peninsula’s main thoroughfare during commuting hours and Sea Dogs baseball games.

City planners and hospital officials took four months to work out the logistics behind detouring traffic to Park Avenue to minimize congestion, said Tuck O’Brien, Portland’s planning director.

Traffic will be detoured from Monday to June 29, and the hospital could be fined $10,000 per day if it doesn’t meet the deadline, as city officials want to limit the closure of portions of Congress Street to the time before high tourist season begins in July.

“The priority is to get this done, and get it done quickly and safely,” O’Brien said. He said city officials will monitor the traffic patterns starting Monday morning to see if any part of the traffic plan needs to change.

Congress Street will be closed from Weymouth to Forest streets, and the detour will take vehicles to Park Avenue, either from St. John Street or Weymouth Street, depending on which way vehicles are traveling. Congress Street must close to make room for a giant crane that will work on adding three floors to the visitor parking garage, which will add 225 spaces to the 480-vehicle facility.

Congress Street near the St. John Street intersection gets about 12,500 vehicles daily, according to a Maine Department of Transportation report.

O’Brien said clear signage along Congress Street and Interstate 295 will help motorists, urging them to take different routes into downtown Portland if possible.

For instance, instead of taking the Congress Street exit off I-295, motorists could use the Franklin Street or Forest Avenue exits.

“Obviously, there are many different ways people can get into the city,” O’Brien said. “We want people to know where they’re going.”

Zack Barowitz, president of the Libbytown Neighborhood Association, said the partial closure of Congress Street could have unintended benefits because there are many, better ways of getting into downtown rather than Congress Street, and perhaps drivers will learn about the alternate routes and not clog Congress Street as much.

“Motorists should consider this a teachable moment,” Barowitz said.

O’Brien said during Sea Dogs games, coordination between the Sea Dogs, the city and Maine Med should help keep congestion down as fans make their way to the games.

Geoff Iacuessa, executive vice president and general manager of the Sea Dogs, said their biggest concern was parking, and all of the parking lots will still be open during the Congress Street closure. He said in June, the night games shift from early season 6 p.m. start times to 7 p.m. starts, so that should help cut down on the traffic because the later start times are after rush hour. Iacuessa said the city and Maine Med have worked closely with the Sea Dogs, and he believes the detours will work well.

Maine Med officials said the detour is necessary to get the work done.

“The Congress Street detour has been carefully evaluated and planned by the city, Maine Medical Center and its neighbors. The detour will allow our construction crews to complete some essential structural work on our patient and visitor garage,” Jeff Sanders, Maine Med’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Patients and visitors can visit mmc.org/modernization for a full detour map and detailed directions on how to get to different parts of our campus.”

The visitor garage and the addition of two floors to the East Tower are the first phase of the five-year construction project. The garage is expected to be completed by the end of this year, while the East Tower – which will include 64 new patient rooms and will be the new location of the helipad – is due to be completed by late 2019. Bus stops on Congress between Weymouth and St. John streets will not be accessible while the portion of Congress is closed.

The crane needed to help with the parking garage addition is so large, it will take up both lanes of Congress Street. The visitor parking garage is the only part of the construction that’s expected to close a portion of Congress Street.

The $512 million project will create a new main entrance on Congress Street as part of a 270,000-square-foot addition, and add 128 new single-occupancy patient rooms and 19 procedure rooms for surgery and other treatments. The total patient capacity at Maine Med – 637 beds – will not change because rooms are being converted from double occupancy to single occupancy.

Single-occupancy is now considered the standard of care at hospitals, to help prevent infections and for patient safety and comfort. Maine Med’s building footprint will increase by about 25 percent when the project is completed in 2023.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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