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As a kid I always associated the number 'nine' with two things: the number of players on a baseball team and the exit we always took off the Maine Turnpike when we were returning home from a trip out of state.
I liked Exit 9 because it meant we were less than 100 miles from home and most of the driving was through familiar territory. Another nice thing about that fine old exit was that it came so soon after Portland's Exit 8 which meant we were officially out of Portland. I liked that.
Over the years certain exit numbers have become important place names here in Maine. A few years back Maine Public Television even had a show named after Lewiston's main exit - 'Exit 13.'
But all those sentimental exit numbers are now, or will soon be, gone forever. The people in charge of the major highways and turnpikes of Maine have let it be known that there'll be a whole lot of renumbering going on around here.
I'll have more to say about the exit numbers a little later but before the exits are all given fresh new numbers the roads they exit from will also be getting new numbers.
I haven't gone out on the road to check for myself but I read in a newspaper somewhere (so it must be true) that by January 10th all road signs on the Maine Turnpike will be renumbered and the entire length of that ribbon of a highway from Kittery to Augusta by way of Lewiston - which has been known variously as I-95, I-495 or 'the interstate' - will be known as just I-95.
But the fun and excitement wont end there!
The section of divided highway from Scarborough to Gardiner by way of Brunswick - which has always been known affectionately as I-295 and in some stretches as I-95 will suddenly become known simply - but still, we hope, affectionately - as I-295.
Are you following this? Because it will be on Friday's quiz!
Once the 'I' numbers have been properly posted in the appropriate places and the re-designation is more or less complete the Department of Transportation will then begin changing exit numbers to correspond to the nearest mile-marker numbers - assuming that the nearest number isn't already being used somewhere else in the state's complex and sprawling highway system.
Then, they say, along about April Fools Day the Maine Turnpike Authority will begin its own exit renumbering procedure. It is expected that if all the best laid plans of mice, men and highway workers don't go awry - or go anywhere else for that matter - all of the interstate system's signing and numbering changes on turnpikes and non-turnpikes alike will be complete by May 15th - just in time for Memorial Weekend - which, as all residents of Vacationland know, is the unofficial beginning of tourist season.
Don't you feel a bit warmer and fuzzier just reading this?
Work on the project began sometime during the first week of 2004 but I was involved in other things - like wheeling and dealing on my cell phone - and wasn't paying attention to what was going on along the side of the road out there on the turnpike. I'd come upon the familiar string of orange barrels, blinking lights and signs warning that some kind of road activity was in progress somewhere in the vicinity but I never gave a thought to the radical numerical changes those highway workers were quietly working to about.
It's said the new exit numbers will let confused drivers like me know how far it is from one exit to another. Wont that be nice?
Signs showing the former exit numbers will be displayed at the bottom of at least two advance signs at each exit and these signs will be black text on a yellow background, in case you'll be looking for them.
Officials say the "formerly" signs will remain in place until after Labor Day 2004 so people from away wont get too discombobulated by the radical changes.
Don't tell anybody but I'll keep calling the Falmouth exit off the turnpike 'Exit 9.' I wont tell anyone if you keep calling it that too.
Contact John at: storytellers@maine.com or write:
John McDonald, Storyteller Central, P.O. Box 301, South Paris, ME 04281
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