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Maine Turnpike Traffic Down Sharply Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Traffic on the Maine Turnpike has fallen drastically - by about half - in recent days.  Meanwhile, the Maine Turnpike Authority has sent most staff home, but is planning to continue construction for now.Turnpike Authority Executive Director Peter Mills says regular auto commuters seem to make up the bulk of the decline in traffic, as more people are either working from home or not working at all.

Mills says much of the remaining traffic is trucks that are moving goods from warehouses to stores, or from out-of-state companies into Maine.  Because of that, he says turnpike revenues are not down as much as vehicle counts are.

Mills says only about a quarter of the turnpike's staff is currently working. Mills, who was working from the turnpike's headquarters in Portland, says it "is essentially a ghost town," with only about 15 people on the job, down from more than 100 most weekdays.

For now, turnpike employees, whether at work or not, are being paid. "We made a committment to do it for two weeks," Mill says.  While Mills says he's not sure what will happen after that, "the first priority of this organization is to retain our workforce."

Nonetheless, construction work is continuing. Mills says this week the Turnpike Authority is likely to approve the first phase of a widening project in greater Portland. It will add a third lane in each direction from the I-295 exit in Scarborough into South Portland.  

Mills says decisions can be made this fall and winter on the second and third phases of the widening project.