Workers from CA Newcomb & Sons in Carmel erect fencing Monday along the corridor for the new open-road tolls on the Maine Turnpike in West Gardiner. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

WEST GARDINER — Kelli Kole was headed north Monday on the Maine Turnpike when she stopped for a break at the West Gardiner Service Plaza.

Next time Kole travels through West Gardiner on the long trip between between her mother’s house in Sebec and her own house in Darien, Connecticut, she will find a changed traffic pattern on the highway.

The traffic pattern going through the toll plazas was scheduled to change at midnight Monday, marking another milestone in the two-year, $30 million project that will bring open-road tolling to drivers beginning in the fall.

Northbound traffic on Interstate 295 will continue through the old cash plaza without stopping and pay at the new plaza 600 feet ahead.

Southbound traffic heading from Interstate 95 to I-295 at Exit 103 will pay at the new toll plaza and then be detoured around the existing toll plaza, which is slated for demolition. The removal of that structure will provide room for the open-road tolling lanes to be built.

“There’s still a lot work that needs to be done,” said Erin Courtney, public outreach and marketing manager for the Maine Turnpike Authority. “The area is so small that we got what could be built, and now we have to shift traffic in order to finish building the road.”

Workers from CA Newcomb & Sons in Carmel erect fencing Monday along the corridor for the new open-road tolls on the Maine Turnpike in West Gardiner. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Courtney said the area remains a work zone, with reduced speed limits.

“Because people have been driving those newly constructed lanes,” she said, “they probably think they are done.”

To date, the tolling software has not been tested, and it will not be until the lanes in both directions are completed. Until then, travelers will be able to pay as they are now paying — with an E-ZPass or cash.

Kelli Kole of Darien, Connecticut, stops briefly Monday at the West Gardiner Service Plaza on the Maine Turnpike. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

Kole said she and her husband make the trip from their Connecticut home to Sebec, just east of Dover-Foxcroft in Piscataquis County, throughout the year. She said she makes the trip alone in the winter to see her mother, to whom she was bringing daffodils Monday as a bit of spring.

For Kole, remembering to bring her E-ZPass is a bigger issue than the changing traffic pattern or open-road tolling. But, she said, she looks forward to the launch of the open-road tolling.

“It’ll definitely make it easier,” Kole said. “There are certainly times of the year when you need it. It sucks having to stand in line.”

The construction project began in July 2019, and includes widening and realigning the road and the exit ramps, and building a toll plaza and a tunnel.

When done, it will be the Maine Turnpike’s sixth and final conversion to open-road tolling at its mainline toll plazas.

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