Hard Telling Not Knowing each week tries to answer your burning questions about why things are the way they are in Maine — specifically about Maine culture and history, both long ago and recent, large and small, important and silly. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This question comes to us from Paul Sheridan of Lincolnville, who wanted some clarity as to why there are multiple labels for all the sections of Interstate 95 in Maine, when they’re all technically part of the same highway system.
Why are there both an I-295 and I-95?
Interstate 95 in Maine is the northern tip of the busiest and most economically important stretch of highway in the country. I-95 serves more than 110 million people — about a third of the country’s population — and contributes to around 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the Eastern Transportation Coalition.
But across the nearly 2,000 miles of 95 that starts in Miami, Florida, and ends in Houlton, Maine, there are many spurs and offshoots that are part of the 95 system but aren’t actually named 95 — hence, why there’s Interstate 395 in the Bangor area and Interstate 295 from West Gardiner to Scarborough.
But if these routes are considered part of the larger I-95 system, why do they have different names? Why aren’t they all just 95, with different exits designated as such? Turns out, doing so would be far more confusing than the current system.
Before it was designated as part of Interstate 95, the section of highway between Kittery and Portland was known exclusively as the Maine Turnpike, from when it opened in 1947 through to when another section extended the road from Portland to Augusta in 1955. When the Interstate Highway System was created by Congress in 1956, the federal government and the Maine Turnpike Authority made the Turnpike concurrent with Interstate 95. Between 1956 and the late 1960s, the rest of Interstate 95 was built between Augusta and Houlton, with the final stretch between Bangor and Houlton opening in 1967.
There were still elements to be finished, like Interstate 295 between Scarborough and West Gardiner, which opened in sections between 1971 and 1977 and which provided a toll-free way to bypass Lewiston and take a more direct route between Augusta and Portland.
There was also Interstate 395 in Bangor and Brewer, which expanded the industrial spur between Hermon and downtown Bangor, with the Veterans Remembrance Bridge over the Penobscot River and its extension to Route 1A in Brewer opening in 1987. Presently, the Maine Department of Transportation is working to extend I-395 from Brewer through Holden and to Route 9 in Eddington.
And there are two more spur-style auxiliaries of 95 in Maine — Interstate 495 in Falmouth, a 3.7-mile spur that connects Route 1 with I-295 and I-95 that’s not actually labeled as such; and Interstate 195 in Saco, a 2.4-mile spur that connects that town and Old Orchard Beach with I-95.
This is all par for the course for the entire Interstate Highway System across the country. Other major interstate highways like the transcontinental Interstate 80 and Interstate 90 all have auxiliary or “child” routes, generally dubbed names like I-180, I-280 and so on, with the main highway being the “parent” route.
In total, there are 40 auxiliary highways of Interstate 95 between Florida and Maine, some of which are quite famous — the Capital Beltway, the infamous 64-mile highway that surrounds Washington D.C., is technically a 95 auxiliary route with the name Interstate 495.
It’s hard to imagine Maine before Interstate 95 in its present form — especially since so many Maine residents today live within 25 miles of the highway. But there are many people around today who vividly remember a time less than 60 years ago when it could take a full day to drive from one side of Maine to the other.