A car passes the Maine Medical Center visitor's parking garage on Congress Street in Portland on Tuesday. The hospital has plans to add more three more stories on top of the building this spring. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

PORTLAND, Maine — The Planning Board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve part of Maine Medical Center’s proposed expansion, clearing the way for the hospital’s half-billion-dollar construction project.

The decision will allow Maine’s largest hospital to obtain building permits and break ground on the first phase its $512 million expansion as early as May.

The first portion of the hospital’s three-stage expansion will add two floors to its east tower and three levels to the visitor parking garage on Congress Street, creating 64 new rooms for cancer patients and 225 new parking spaces. It will also move the hospital helipad to the roof of the east tower.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A car passes the Maine Medical Center visitor’s parking garage on Congress Street in Portland on Tuesday. The hospital has plans to add more three more stories on top of the building this spring.

“This project is going to provide a tremendous benefit to Maine and all who need first-class health care in our community,” Maine Medical Center President and Chief Executive Officer Rich Petersen said in a statement.

Over five years, the expansion is set to create 19 operating rooms at the hospital, add a new entrance and increase its overall footprint by roughly 25 percent. The project will not expand the hospital’s patient capacity, however, as it converts Maine Medical Center’s many double-occupancy rooms into ones for a single patients, following a path taken by other hospitals around the country.

[Maine Medical Center plans $512 million expansion]

Construction on the east tower and parking garage is scheduled to close Congress Street between Forest and Weymouth streets from May 7 to June 28. As a condition of the Planning Board’s approval the hospital could be subject to a fine of $10,000 a day if the street is not reopened by June 29.

During this period, there will be a detour along St. John Street and Park Avenue, sending traffic past Hadlock Field in the early months of the Portland Sea Dogs’ minor league baseball season.

Map courtesy of Maine Medical Center
Map courtesy of Maine Medical Center
This map shows detour routes and access points for the two months Congress Street in Portland is expected to be closed while Maine Medical Center adds floors to its visitor’s parking garage.

Business around the Congress Street closure will remain open and there will be additional efforts to divert traffic on game days, Alexander Green, the hospital’s director of planning and regulatory compliance, told the Planning Board. “Unfortunately, closing two lanes of Congress Street is really the only option, the only way to build this visitors garage,” he said.

Geoff Iacuessa, executive vice president and general manager of the Sea Dogs, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that he has “no concerns” about the detour.

Wescott Street, which runs along the hospital’s east tower, is also scheduled to be closed for one year, according to Maine Medical Center spokesman Matt Wickenheiser.

Hospital officials expect construction on the visitors garage to be complete by the end of this year while work on the east tower is scheduled to be finished in late 2019. They intend to submit site plans for the two remaining phases of the expansion later this year, Wickenheiser said.

Image courtesy of Maine Medical Center
Image courtesy of Maine Medical Center
This artist’s rendering depicts the additional three floors to be added to Maine Medical Center’s visitor’s garage. On Tuesday night, the Portland Planning Board approved the construction and a two-month shutdown of Congress Street to facilitate the project.

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