Back in December of 1947, Maine had more cows than people, had yet to have a television station, and you could buy a new Plymouth Deluxe-Six Business Coupe for $1,139—or a new Crosby for $888.
At the brand-new Maine Turnpike, travelers could, at last, avoid the at-times horrendous Route One traffic and breeze non-stop from Kittery to Portland. Around the clock, toll collectors handed a cardstock ticket to every entering driver, and collected the toll at each exit.
Turn the clock 75 years ahead and you arrive on today’s Maine Turnpike in an era where cell phone technology connects drivers instantly to weather information, GPS maps, and voiced directions to any destination, while E-ZPass drivers pay their tolls in nanoseconds, cruising non-stop through overhead gantries that process a million such transactions each week.
Now in its seventy-fifth year, Maine Turnpike Authority looks back on its history and its contribution to the state and shares those reflections in a way few could imagine in those days before television and cell phones.
A special Maine Turnpike Authority website, maineturnpike75.com, anchors the 75th year recognition as the highway looks to December 13, when it will have reached its full 75 years of age.
It has been an exciting ride since the very beginning. When the Turnpike welcomed its first drivers, it was setting national standards from the get-go. It was second only to the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the new superhighway category which embraced the idea of arrow-straight, high-speed lanes with a limited number of exits and entrances at key points along the way. The Turnpike was New England’s very first superhighway and, with a posted speed limit of 60 miles per hour, it was dubbed Maine’s first “Mile-A-Minute” highway. It was also the first major highway in the world to be constructed with asphalt, a material that Maine pioneered and would become the high-speed roadway material of choice for states with extremes in summer and winter temperatures and precipitation of all varieties.
Erin Courtney, public outreach manger said, “There have been so many milestones and so many stories of growth and technological advancements on the Maine Turnpike, we wanted this very important anniversary to focus on the thousands, literally thousands of people who have been involved in developing and building the Maine Turnpike and keeping it running safely and efficiently now for generations. There are so many human stories associated with this one roadway, there has been no shortage of tales to tell.”
Peter Mills, the Authority’s executive director also remarked, “The people who have been involved with the Turnpike have shaped it, maintained it, improved it, built and rebuilt it, and rebuilt it again. It’s so important to remember that caring for this road and the millions who travel it, means anticipating when the parts will wear out, when the stretches of roadway will require repaving, and when bridges, which we also care for, will have reached their sell-by date and need to be replaced. We are always planning 30 years ahead to manage those changes and to be financially prepared to pay for them. Think of how many people over just the past 30 years have had to exert the due diligence to stay on top of this challenge. It’s amazing.”
Worth noting, the Maine Turnpike has sustained itself financially from the very beginning. Financed through bonds that are repaid entirely through the tolls collected from Turnpike drivers, the historic roadway has never taken a cent in local, state, or federal money. And yet, practically all of the goods and products that are trucked into Maine are carried on the Turnpike. Even if you never take the Maine Turnpike, its benefit to all of Maine is unquestionable.
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