Council seeks to improve safety, slow traffic at busy intersection

By Ben Holbrook | Feb 11, 2013

Belfast — In an effort to calm traffic and improve safety at the intersection of Route 1 and Swan Lake Avenue, Belfast city councilors considered a number of potential options during a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 5.

The improvements include installing new signs and flashing beacons, removing ledge along Route 1, relocating the existing crosswalk on Swan Lake Avenue and extending the sidewalk, widening the southbound approach of Swan Lake Avenue to provide separate right and left turning lanes and installing solar-powered pedestrian lights on Swan Lake Avenue.

A $100,000 grant from the Maine Department of Transportation and a matching grant from the city in the amount of $7,500 would pay for the improvements. After engineer and study expenses, the city has about a $78,000 budget.

Preliminary cost estimates range from a high of $161,000 to a low of $80,000, depending on the scope of work councilors choose to pursue.

Don Ettinger of Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers explained to councilors the variety of traffic and pedestrian issues that occur at the intersection of routes 1 and 141. He said a study of the intersection from 2009 to 2011 revealed that there were 13 accidents over the three-year period.

As a result, the state determined the crash rate at the intersection was three to four times higher than the average intersection in Maine. However, Ettinger said the severity of the accidents is worth noting because many of the ones occurring at the intersection involved a vehicle being rear-ended, which resulted in more property damage than personal injuries.

Ettinger said installing a traffic signal in the intersection was ruled out by the state in the past, which Councilor Roger Lee challenged.

“I think a signal would be the cheapest and safest solution,” Lee said. “I guess I have a hard time understanding why we can’t do that. That just boggles my mind.”

Mayor Walter Ash Jr. explained that one of the issues with installing a traffic light would be that traffic would back up across the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge and out as far as High Street.

Route 141 improvements

Many of the proposed improvements deal with making traffic coming onto and turning off of Swan Lake Avenue safer. One proposal presented by Ettinger would move the existing crosswalk to the northern side of Robbins Road and further extend the crosswalk.

Ettinger said an additional crosswalk could be installed closer to the East Belfast Elementary School with sidewalk extended from Robbins Road to the southern school driveway.

However, to extend the sidewalks from where they are right now to the school would cost about $29,000, Ettinger said.

Robbins Road resident Andrew Carpenter spoke during a public hearing regarding the proposed improvements and said he supported moving the existing Swan Lake Avenue crosswalk and relocating it to the southern side of Robbins Road.

Carpenter also suggested that the city should consider building a path that stretches from the Armistice Footbridge that crosses Route 1 under the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Intersection surface treatment

While councilors agreed that vehicles travel too fast through the intersection — Ettinger said a study found vehicles travel at a speed of 45 mph in the posted 35 mph zone –– they debated the most effective way to slow traffic.

Ettinger said the city could consider using a treatment surface, either by painting or using stamped pavement or concrete, on the northeast and northwest corners of the intersection — the lanes for vehicles turning onto and off of Swan Lake Avenue are very wide to accommodate larger vehicles.

If those corners were visually altered, drivers would see a narrower lane and slow down as they attempted to turn onto Swan Lake Avenue. However, larger vehicles would still be able to drive over the treated surface to make the turn.

Councilor Nancy Hamilton and Ash disagreed with narrowing the lane, because both noted that drivers want to be able to turn off Route 1 as quickly as possible.

“The amount of traffic there, it’s tremendously high,” Ash said.

Hamilton said she tends to pull over as far to the right as she can when making the turn onto Swan Lake Avenue in order to give vehicles turning left off of Swan Lake Avenue as much room as possible in the intersection.

“I personally don’t think that it’s a benefit,” Hamilton said of the intersection surface treatment option.

Assistant City Planner James Francomano said he would cut the intersection surface treatment option as much as possible and dedicate more money to widening the southbound lane of Swan Lake Avenue to create separate left and right turning lanes.

The timeline for the project calls for a preliminary design to be presented in March, followed by a final design in May. Construction would be scheduled for the fall to avoid disrupting traffic during the busy summer months.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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