February 18

Roundabout proposed for West Gardiner Interstate 95 interchange

The Maine Department of Transportation, which is proposing the roundabout to reduce the risk at one of the state’s most dangerous intersections, is holding a public meeting about the project in March.

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

The state is proposing a roundabout for one of the most crash-prone intersections in Maine — the Interstate 95 exit and entrance in West Gardiner.

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CRASH-PRONE: Drivers entering and leaving the West Gardiner Service Plaza wait for a break in traffic on Route 9 and 126, which doesn’t stop at the intersection, on Tuesday in West Gardiner. The Maine Department of Transportation is proposing a roundabout there.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

PERILOUS PLACE: Drivers entering and leaving the West Gardiner Service Plaza wait for a break in traffic on Route 9 and 126, which doesn’t stop at the intersection, on Tuesday in West Gardiner. The Maine Department of Transportation is proposing a roundabout there.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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The single-lane roundabout would connect Route 126 with the entrance and exits of the interstate and the turnpike plaza, an intersection now controlled by a single blinking traffic light each way.

The Maine Department of Transportation is holding a public meeting on the proposed roundabout from 6 to 8 p.m. March 4 at the Helen Thompson School library.

The department, which is working with the Maine Turnpike Authority on the project, chose the location because of the high rate of motor vehicle crashes at the intersection, said Heath Cowan, assistant highway program manager at the department.

The intersection has a higher critical rate factor, or CRF, than any other location in the state, Cowan said.

The rating takes into account the number of crashes and amount of traffic in a location. The West Gardiner intersection has had fewer crashes — 27 between 2010 and 2012 — than other high-rated locations, but it also has less traffic.

The department is proposing the project because roundabouts reduce the number of ways vehicles can collide in an intersection and reduce the severity of the crashes that do happen, Cowan said, by preventing collisions from turning cars or drivers running red lights.

The Transportation Research Board has found that roundabouts reduce accident rates by 35 percent and severe injury crashes by 76 percent.

“The roundabout is one of the safest kinds of intersections we can put out there,” Cowan said.

However, town officials in West Gardiner question whether the change would reduce the danger of the intersection.

The chairman of the West Gardiner Board of Selectmen, Gregory Couture, said the board expressed its concerns during a meeting last fall with department and turnpike authority officials.

Couture said many people don’t pay attention when they’re turning onto Route 126, also known as Route 9 and Lewiston Road, from the highway exit, and he doubts a roundabout will help.

“I just don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said. “We expressed our concerns. Not much we can do about it. It is their road.”

Cowan said the purpose of the March 4 public meeting is to inform the public of the plan and estimated time frame and to give the public an opportunity to comment on the plan and how it may affect them.

“What we’re looking for is just their input on the project. We like to think of the public as part of the project,” he said.

The project, largely funded by federal money, will cost an estimated $1.4 million and is expected to be finished by sometime in 2015, Cowan said. The state is using federal highway safety funds to pay for 90 percent of the project, and the turnpike authority is picking up the remaining 10 percent, he said.

The plan to build the service plaza in West Gardiner, completed in 2008, also encountered resistance from residents, some of whom felt it would disrupt the town’s rural character. The West Gardiner Service Plaza, built for about $11.5 million, houses chain restaurants and the Center for Maine Craft.

The department recently built two roundabouts in north Augusta near I-95’s rebuilt exit 113.

Paul Koenig — 207-621-5663 pkoenig@centralmaine.com Twitter: @paul_koenig
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