Maine Turnpike Authority Faces Challenges Amid COVID-19

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COVID-19 is presenting a new set of challenges for the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Using extra protection when collecting cash tolls, having a large amount of staff take paid administrative leave and deferring maintenance are all adjustments being made right now as the MTA's management tries to keep the highway functioning as normal as possible.

"We'll run the turnpike on minimal staffing," MTA Executive Director Peter Mills said Friday.

Mills said there has been about a roughly 15% drop in traffic, particularly in commuters going to Portland.

Reduced road and customer service demand has allowed Mills and his team to implement an aggressive policy of allowing paid leave for workers who want it and allowing hourly workers who want extra hours and extra cash to earn up to double their normal income.

"We said, 'look we'll pay you, stay home,'" said Mills of the elderly, immunocompromised and other vulnerable workers he would rather see stay healthy.

For staff on public-facing jobs, like Joyce Morrison, a 9-year turnpike employee who collects tolls in Falmouth, there are other adjustments.

Morrison says she's been using extra disinfecting wipes to keep her work area sanitized and is now wearing two latex gloves instead of one when handling money.

"I'm taking the precautions, I feel good," she said.

That ability to function is what turnpike management hopes will keep the roadway's bigger efforts like multi-million dollar construction projects moving in the weeks to come.

According to Mills, if cash toll collection had to be stopped, that would mean a $500,000 weekly loss.

Sending home all staff and stopping toll collection altogether would be a $2,000,000 weekly loss and collecting tolls by mail would not be feasible.

"The economy needs that money," Mills said. "Where does that money come from? Tolls."

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