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Maine, N.H. May Open I-95 Bridge Shoulders During Peak Travel Times

Annie Ropeik

State transportation officials are considering a plan to open the shoulders on the I-95 Bridge between Portsmouth and Maine for travel during peak congestion times.

The Maine and New Hampshire Departments of Transportation are working together on the project. It would cost about $8 million and be set for completion by Memorial Day of 2023.

NHDOT will take public input on the project during a virtual meeting at 6 p.m. this Wednesday.

The goal is to create more room for traffic on the heavily used Piscataqua River Bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery, according to Charles Blackman of NHDOT.

He said the structure, also known as the High-Level Bridge, sometimes carries more than 5,000 cars per hour around weekends between Memorial Day and Columbus Day as people travel to and from beaches and recreation areas.

Each direction of the bridge was designed to hold a maximum of 4,500 cars per hour across three lanes, Blackman said.

“Once we get over that magical number, what happens is driver behavior starts to kick in. That’s when people start to get a little more nervous,” he said. “When people hit the brakes, that’s a chain reaction, an accordion, and then before you know it, you have a slow-down for no real reason… and before you know it, you have an accident.”

Instead of expanding the bridge’s footprint, this project would make use of existing shoulders at peak travel times between exit 5 in New Hampshire and exit 3 in Maine.

On-site and remote traffic managers would use new dynamic lane signs, with text and symbols, to open and close the shoulders to travel on the more congested side of the bridge at times when it was safe and necessary.

The bridge is currently undergoing a rehabilitation project, which has shifted traffic into the existing shoulders while the middle of the bridge is closed. 

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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