BANGOR – If you’re heading to the Bangor Mall this weekend, you could try the road less traveled.
Today at noon the first motorists will be able to use the long-awaited Stillwater Avenue interchange with Interstate 95 at Exit 48A – the city’s first new exit since the highway’s completion in the early 1960s.
Nearly a decade in the works, the $4.5 million project was lauded by city officials as a means of alleviating congestion on Hogan Road, far and away the city’s busiest byway with nearly 30,000 vehicles using the east side street on an average summer day.
“Anybody who’s been on Hogan Road on the weekend knows there’s a need,” City Engineer Jim Ring said this week of the necessity of the exit, which will open officially after today’s dedication ceremony, expected to last from 11 a.m. to noon.
City officials and area businesses pushed for the new exit for nearly 10 years, when the Bangor Mall area began its unprecedented growth. The amount of commercial building space around the mall has nearly doubled during the past decade, with development proceeding at a pace nearly 21/2 times that of the 1980s.
Much of that new commercial space has popped up along Stillwater Avenue, which like Hogan Road was little more than a two-lane path through local farmland before the mall’s 1977 construction.
Now lined with minimalls, gas stations, offices and retail centers – including a 24,000-square-foot Circuit City – the street behind the Bangor Mall has had its own traffic troubles with 12,000 cars a day on the once-rural road.
And with plans for a Wal-Mart Supercenter slowly making their way through the courts and state regulatory boards, the new exit could become even more important in allowing shoppers to easily bypass Hogan Road, already bursting with motorists visiting the throngs of local car dealers or using the mall’s main entrance.
The new exit will empty onto Stillwater Avenue just south of Hoyts Cinemas. Under the current design, motorists exiting the highway will only be able to turn right toward the mall.
Ring said the right-turn-only design was a compromise with residents in the nearby east side neighborhoods who worried that traffic turning left toward the “tree streets” would exacerbate the already busy stretch of road, a convenient back route from Broadway to the mall.
But while some welcomed the limited access to the neighborhood, others, including Jeff Leadbetter, who owns a local convenience store just south of the new exit, said the jury was still out regarding the new exit’s impact on the area.
“I don’t know if it’s going to help me or not,” Leadbetter said Thursday. “I’m kind of waiting to see.”
Because the vast majority of the mall traffic comes from the south, Ring said, the interchange does not include a northbound on ramp, with the current design allowing for the addition of such a ramp should the need arise.
The project, paid for with federal and state funds, underwent several incarnations before engineers settled on a design.
While the design was a subject of debate, so were its rising costs, which at times threatened the project, according to Lee Umphrey, the city’s intergovernmental affairs coordinator He credited U.S. Rep. John Baldacci as a member of the House Transportation Committee with securing an additional $1.5 million that allowed the project to proceed.