Traffic heading south on the Maine Turnpike was heavy but steady throughout Labor Day, as vacationers returned home after squeezing in a last-minute Maine trip before the unofficial end of summer, signaling the end of tourist season.

Erin Courtney, spokeswoman for the Maine Turnpike Authority, said the agency is going to comb through the numbers this week, but on Monday it was too early to determine how busy the turnpike was compared to previous years.

But heading into the Labor Day weekend, turnpike officials said they were expecting record-breaking traffic based on a number of factors, including good weather and the fact that traffic so far this summer had trended ahead of last year.

Turnpike toll transactions totaled 1.06 million for Labor Day weekend in 2017, and the numbers are likely to exceed that this year, Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, said last week.

Courtney said she was at the York Toll Plaza through midafternoon on Labor Day, handing motorists free chips and water, and traffic was backed up starting in the late morning.

“It was very steady all morning and delays started to occur around 10 a.m. Delays were intermittent all the way to Saco by 11:15 a.m. For most of the late morning and afternoon, traffic was backed up to at least Mile 12” on the turnpike, Courtney said.

She said she was not aware of any major accidents, although the turnpike authority’s twitter account mentioned a crash near the Kittery exit that closed a southbound lane for about an hour early Monday evening.

In addition to the free chips and water, the turnpike authority brought out three mascots to the York Toll Plaza to cheer up motorists, including Miles the Moose, Clawdette the Lobster and a Poland Spring bottle.

“We heard a lot of ‘Maine is awesome’ and ‘only in Maine,’ ” Courtney said.

Southbound traffic at the York Toll Plaza – from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. – was about 3,500 vehicles every hour, peaking at 3,988 vehicles between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., according to turnpike authority statistics.

Traffic eased slightly to about 3,000 vehicles per hour starting at 5 p.m.

Portland International Jetport officials said last week that the airport was expecting passenger traffic to be at or near record levels for Labor Day weekend.

Roughly 36.7 million tourists visited Maine in 2017, a 2.5 percent increase over 2016 and about 8.8 million more visitors than in 2012, according to statistics from the Maine Office of Tourism.

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

[email protected]ressherald.com

Twitter: joelawlorph

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