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Back home when I was a kid when people talked about the road out of Maine they just said 'the turnpike' - meaning the Maine Turnpike that went from Falmouth to Kittery. When the interstate system came along in the 60s Maine's only interstate highway was called 95 - and started in West Gardiner and eventually went all the way to Houlton. Since we had just one it was called 'the interstate.'
I'm not sure when it happened - probably in the 1970s when the rest of us were busy doing something else - but the folks in Greater Portland started tearing down everything they could whack with a wrecking ball and also built a road from Scarborough to West Gardiner. Suddenly Maine had TWO interstates. They decided to call the second one 295.
In an attempt to simplify things the folks in charge of names and numbers decided to end 295 in Falmouth and name the rest of what was '295' '95.' That left the turnpike stretch between West Falmouth and West Gardiner unnumbered so they decided to call that stretch '495.'
After more attempts at 'simplicity' it was decided that the stretch from Kittery to Augusta should be 95; the stretch from Scarborough to West Gardiner should be 295 and the spur between the two should be called 495 but the number would be unlisted so people wouldn't get confused. I'm serious - they said that!
They also decided to organize search parties to help find tourists lost over the years trying to figure out where the %#@& they were.
But the fun didn't end there. Along with the route changes the state has renumbered its exits to correspond with mileage. Why? Thirty-seven states already list their exits by mileage, and the change in Maine will hopefully eliminate duplicate Exit 2s, Exit 3s and Exit 4s - but who know?
Remember Exit 5 in Saco? It's now Exit 36. Simple.
Except that Ken Janson has a classic rock band from Saco called Exit 5 and he just doesn't like the sound of Exit 36.
Some things in the new scheme of things will remain the same. For instance, Exit 2 in Kittery will remain Exit 2, but Exit 2 in Wells will become Exit 19. Much better.
Exit 4 in York will become Exit 7, and Exit 4 in Biddeford will become Exit 32, which is a much bigger number but still divisible by 4, which is a plus.
The new system may mean a name change for some businesses. Paul Dorval, owner of Exit 32 Automotive in Sydney, said he's trying to think of a snappy new name, or number.
Paul says "Exit 120 is an awful long name as opposed to Exit 32. I will rename it, but I've been thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking, trying to come up with something and I haven't thought of anything yet."
Hey, Paul, it only works out to one more syllable.
Someone suggested that he move to mile 32 and have the DOT build him an exit ramp there for his business. That would save him the trouble of getting new stationary and business cards.
Exit 3 Safe Storage in Kennebunk will change its name now that the exits are renumbered, said manager John Caramihalis.
The city of Biddeford is considering changing the name of its Exit 4 Business Park. "The Park Formerly Known as Four" has been suggested.
The exit changes will also affect the hotels, restaurants and other businesses up and down I-95 and I-495 that send directions to tourists in promotional materials each year.
The York Harbor Inn cautions its customers arriving from the north that they will pass Exit 4 in Biddeford before reaching Exit 4 in York. Some tourists have already been seen trying to check into the business park.
The new signs will include the former exit number printed in black and yellow for the first year of use so that businesses and drivers have a chance to learn the simple new system.
One tourist was heard to say, "If the turnpike gets any simpler I wont be able to find a thing."
Contact John at: storytellers@maine.com or write:
John McDonald, Storyteller Central, P.O. Box 301, South Paris, ME 04281
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