City councilors had the opportunity last week to discuss a proposal by Maine Department of Transportation to eliminate the jug handle connecting Route 1 and Northport Avenue.

City officials opted to gather more public input about the project before making any decisions.

Speaking at the council's Sept. 3 meeting, Maine DOT engineers Dennis Emidy and Jeffrey Pulver claimed the intersection is abnormal because the jug handle doesn’t directly line up with Northport Avenue. It is unnecessarily crossing three lanes of traffic and there has been an increase in accidents in recent years, they argue.

There have been 23 crashes, with two resulting in death, according to the engineers. They said the two deaths increase the need for an overhaul of the intersection. However, Belfast Police Chief Michael McFadden said the deaths were caused by drunk driving and a poorly placed campaign sign, not the design of the intersection.

McFadden’s primary concern is the possibility of drivers turning left onto Northport Avenue, which might back up traffic on Route 1. He attributes the rise in accidents at the intersection to an overall increase in city traffic.

He admits it is not an intersection he or his family will use because of how awkward it is, but said he thinks the proposed plan would bind up traffic similar to the Swan Lake Avenue intersection near the Belfast bridge. He advised the engineers to increase the left lane length.

Director of Codes and Planning Wayne Marshall supported eliminating the jug handle, saying, “This thing just doesn’t work and it needs to be fixed.”

He said it is unfair to compare the intersection to the Swan Lake Avenue intersection because the bridge experiences the most traffic in Belfast.

City Councilor Mary Mortier said she thinks people are not going to slow down from 55 mph to 40 mph. She suggested a raised median on the north side of the intersection to reduce speeding.

“So, people are going 55-plus and are going to hit the yellow or white lines on the road, with no island, no raised anything, and because a sign says 40 miles an hour,” Mortier said. “Nobody’s switching from 55-plus to 40 in a split second because there’s painted lines on the road.”

Councilors suggested adding a caution light to the proposed plan but the engineers said it would cost up to $100,000 extra.

The estimated $800,000 project would provide a safety-to-cost benefit of four-to-one, according to Pulver. The engineers are seeking city approval to increase the department's likelihood of receiving federal funds to pay for the intersection changes.

“With support from the town, this would be a candidate safety project,” Emidy said. “ … In this project, it has a benefit cost of almost four-to-one. So, every $1 spent on the project is $4 saved in safety and crash costs.”

In the past, Maine DOT has received $7 million to look into high crash locations in the state, according to Emidy. There are more than 1,200 total, but the department can only complete for federal funding for a few projects each year. It felt the jug handle in Belfast was a likely contender for funds.

John Robinson Way, located near the intersection, would be eliminated. The engineers said it is too close to Northport Avenue and would be rerouted through an adjacent dirt road off Northport Avenue. The project would not impose on any private property in the area.

The engineers said DOT cannot guarantee the project will be approved and completed until the department submits the project application.