November 4, 2013

Officials laud new Augusta hospital roundabouts

$13 million road network links Routes 3 & 27 & I-95.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Trucks and cars traveled along Route 3, crossing Interstate 95 at exit 113, and slowly circled one of the city’s two new roundabouts Monday as transportation officials and others hailed the completion of the new road network.

click image to enlarge

EXIT: Drivers taking exit 113 on the Maine Interstate in Augusta will encounter a roundabout that will either take them west to the new hospital being opened by MaineGeneral Medical Center or east along Route 3.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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EXIT: Maine Department of Transportation engineer Matt Swindells stakes a sidewalk Monday near the entrance to the MaineGeneral Medical Center’s new hospital in Augusta.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Roundabout or rotary?

Steve Landry, state traffic engineer, offered distinctions between the two circular roads in Maine, rotaries and roundabouts:

“A rotary is typically a circular roadway that has a very large radius and is built to facilitate speed going through the circle area,” Landry said. “The way that each leg comes into the circle is kind of tangential, so you don’t have to slow down a lot to enter or go around it.

“A roundabout has a much smaller radius. As the roadways come into the circle, they’re aimed to the center, forcing the motorists to take a right turn into the circle, and they’re banked to naturally slow drivers down.”

Landry said Augusta already had one roundabout because Cony Circle was reconstructed several years ago, and the radius was reduced about 15 feet. “Memorial Circle is a rotary, but we striped it to make it look more like a roundabout,” Landry said. “We’re trying to get people into the mode of driving it like a roundabout.”

Landry said the state has 25 circular roads, 22 of them roundabouts.

Other roundabout facts:

They are safer than other intersections because severe head-on and left turn crashes do not occur.

They reduce accident rates by 35 percent and injury crashes by 76 percent, according to the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.

They have fewer accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists than at intersections with traffic signals.

They use yields rather than traffic signals, thereby saving time, money and fuel for motorists.

Source: Maine Department of Transportation

Officials gave speeches on the wooden porch of a single-story structure used as a construction offices for the adjacent Alfond Center for Health, MaineGeneral Medical Center’s new hospital, which is scheduled to open Saturday.

The new road, visible in the background, offers quick access to the hospital and the Alfond Center for Cancer Care, which is next door. It also carries Route 3 from the east side of the interstate to Route 27, also known as Civic Center Drive.

As part of the ceremonial ribbon cutting, Augusta Mayor William Stokes and others presented the Bonenfant family with two green signs saying “Bonenfant Roundabout.” Stokes noted that the family-owned land was used for Interstate 95, exit 113, the new roundabouts, the Marketplace at Augusta and Cushnoc Crossing bridge.

“What a difference from what I used to see,” said Paul Bonenfant, 76, as he and his wife Alice talked about the new roads. They live near the most recent project on Old Belgrade Road. Paul Bonenfant said “quite a few acres” of what had been his father’s former dairy farm have gone to state projects.

State Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt praised the federal, state, city and private partnership that helped fund the project, which came in at the $13 million budget and on time. The two new roundabouts opened to traffic last week. The road project had to be open so the hospital could begin clinical services on time.

Bernhardt said the modifications to exit 113 were proposed by hospital officials six years ago in hopes of improving access from I-95 to Old Belgrade Road and thereby the new hospital and the cancer center, and those efforts were furthered by city officials as well as the Augusta Board of Trade.

He said all the participants helped make it happen and, in a nod to the Red Sox winning the World Series last week, “hit it out of the park.”

As he and others spoke, construction workers put finishing touches on the western roundabout and other intersections. They are expected to remain on the job for about three more weeks.

MaineGeneral Medical Center President and Chief Executive Officer Chuck Hays welcomed the road opening saying it would make transportation for patients and their families much easier.

“Easy Interstate 95 and east-west access is a tremendous gift to our patients at the hospital and at the cancer center,” he said. “We are honored to be part of this project and congratulate you on a job well done.”

The cost-sharing agreement that funded the project called for the state and federal government to pay 60 percent of the total, with MaineGeneral providing 29 percent; and the City of Augusta 11 percent in the form of tax breaks called tax increment financing.

Final figures show the state and federal government paid $7.8 million; MaineGeneral, $2.6 million; the city, $1.4 million in the tax deal; and $1.2 million came from a congressional earmark.

On Monday, Todd Jorgensen, division administrator for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, credited the work of the state transportation design staff and the cooperation among all the parties, particularly the public-private partnership in coming up with the money.

“There are more good projects out there than we have the ability to fund,” he said. He also said this project increases safety, provides better mobility, creates jobs and promotes economic development.

Jorgensen said this was the first use of a roundabout with an interstate exit in Maine. He said they connect with interstate highways in about a third of the states.

“It’s good to reflect on the fact that government can work the way it’s supposed to work today,” Stokes said.

Transportation officials said about 300 workers were involved in the project, which began in April and called for improving the exit 113 interchange, constructing the two roundabouts and upgrading Old Belgrade Road as well as intersections with Middle and Bog roads and Civic Center Drive.

Along with improving access to the regional hospital, the project was designed to ease congestion at exit 112.

 

Betty Adams — 621-5631

badams@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @betadams

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