The Maine Turnpike is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. A special collection of history and interviews marks the occasion. Maine Turnpike Authority

There was a time when Maine residents or summer visitors would travel here by steamship or rail, often only using an automobile for the final few miles of the journey, if at all.

But, by the 1930s, more dependable cars — and roads — changed that. In just a few short years, the “flood of traffic choking Maine’s southern stretch of Route 1 became a major headache,” which led to serious talks about the creation of a “superhighway.”

That history and a whole lot more is included in a comprehensive history of the Maine Turnpike, compiled for its 75th anniversary this year, which credits the highway for jumpstarting the state’s economy and tourism industry.

“For 75 years, the Maine Turnpike has been the gateway for Maine commerce and mobility, invigorating the state’s economy and making the unique natural beauty, arts, culture and cuisine of Maine accessible for millions,” the turnpike’s website states.

It depicts the turnpike as an economic driver at a time when several Maine industries were faltering, including textile and paper mills, shoemaking, agriculture and more.

“Many Maine brands are much older, but few have had the widespread impact that the Maine Turnpike has had on the state’s economic health, and in the many ways it has provided incremental changes in the quality of life enjoyed by the vast majority of Mainers,” said Erin Courtney, MTA’s public outreach manager.


The creation of the Maine Turnpike Authority was approved by the Legislature in 1941, but the country’s entrance into World War II put the project on hold. Much like the rest of the U.S., when the war was over in 1945, an explosion of construction and infrastructure projects began, including the Maine Turnpike.

Three officials from York County — George Varney, speaker of the Maine House; George Lord of Wells, a highway commissioner; and Rep. Joseph Sayward of Kennebunk — are credited with spearheading the project, a direct response to the Route 1 traffic headaches and inspiration from the country’s first “superhighway” in Pennsylvania.

The original 47-mile turnpike officially opened on Dec. 13, 1947. The toll from Kittery to Portland was 50 cents. It was America’s second superhighway, and was the world’s first asphalt highway, complete with roadside service stations and toll booths.

Its opening coincided with more and more Americans owning cars. Revenues increased 160% over the turnpike’s first four years. In its first year, 1.5 million vehicles traveled the turnpike; by 1964, annual traffic had reached 5 million. It doubled again by 1971.

The collection of 75th anniversary videos on the website also shows the many expansions of the highway, up to the most recent work to widen the turnpike in the Portland area.

An additional 66 miles between Portland and Augusta — taking travelers through Lewiston and Auburn — were built in 1954, despite the wettest stretch of weather Maine had seen in 50 years. In 154 working days, it rained on 97 of them, including two hurricanes.


This photo shows the country’s second “superhighway,” the Maine Turnpike, under construction. Opening in 1947, it was also the first asphalt highway. Maine Turnpike Authority

Originally, the state planned to turn administration of the Maine Turnpike over to the Maine Department of Transportation once all turnpike debt was paid off, eliminating the need for tolls. But, by the early 1980s, the price of gas and other expenses made the MDOT incapable of taking it on, and state officials reached a new agreement.

The toll highway continued, and from then on 25% of all turnpike revenue was given to the MDOT to fund other state bridge and road work.

In the turnpike’s 50th year, in 1997, Maine voters approved a referendum to widen 30 miles of the turnpike to three lanes — known as “the widening.” The first “Trans Pass” system — now known as E-Z Pass — was also unveiled the same year, automating toll collections.

Two years later, tolls were removed from the Lewiston and Auburn interchanges to allow the north end to operate as an “open barrier system,” replacing the previous ticket system where tolls were determined by the distance traveled or number of exits passed.

In recent years, the turnpike has expanded E-Z Pass access to include large high-speed lanes for automatic tolling. A widening project between exits 44-48 in the Portland area is on track to be completed in 2023.

In 2013, 62 million vehicles traveled the turnpike.


The anniversary material also features short interviews with current and former MTA employees, showcasing the long history and changing dynamics of the industry.

One longtime turnpike employee, Lucille Murphy, talks about her years working in “violations imaging,” or checking license plate photos of non-payers — likely one of the more unpopular jobs from an outsider’s perspective.

She processes some 2,000 a day. From there, someone else sends out letters, or collects the money from an existing account.

When asked about which out-of-state license plate she sees the most, she offers a take popular with most Mainers: Massachusetts.

Another interview, featuring Andy Dyke and his father, Jody Dyke, describes a family tradition of working on the highway — three generations taking care of the road during different eras.

Andy Dyke, a maintenance foreman based in Gray, plowed snow in that area of the turnpike. So did his father Jody, and his grandfather before him.


“The three of us actually worked right out of the same garage bay,” Jody Dyke said. “I grew up hearing the stories from my dad, and he (Andy) grew up hearing stories from me.”

Jody Dyke said he remembers hearing about his father standing in the back of the plow truck during a winter storm and throwing sand out by hand.

“Now you just push a button and it all happens for you,” he said. “Ya, we’ve evolved quite a bit.”

For more information or to watch the anniversary content, go to

The Maine Turnpike, pictured here near Exit 32 in Biddeford, turns 75 this year. Maine Turnpike Authority

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