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City, DOT officials weigh eliminating jug handle

By Kendra Caruso | Sep 06, 2019
Photo by: Kendra Caruso The jug handle at the junction of Northport Avenue and Route 1 in Belfast.

Belfast — 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.


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Comments (2)
Posted by: Eric Schrader | Sep 08, 2019 16:48

Hey Ralphie, I thought you were a pretty smart guy and really on top of things, so I'll guess you'll have to go back and watch the Belfast Council meeting last Tuesday to find out all the information you need. But since you live in Northport, you might not be able to handle a Council meeting start to finish. Maybe the Selectmen of Northport, or whatever you call them, will make an executive decision to rebuild the bench that surrounds the tree at the Harbor. They should have complimentary tweezers to pull the splinters out of your butt after you get up. Don't you guys pay your taxes down there?

Posted by: Ralph Stanley | Sep 07, 2019 18:31

I do not know the history of the creation of the jug handle. I would surmise that people who know of it and how it works, do so. I would think that those who have no idea how it works (counterintuitive), turn left from Rt. 1. It would also make sense that this jug handle is useful to vehicles (emergency) who want to gain access to the hospital. Coming from the North going south with an emergency vehicle, access to Northport Ave. via the jug handle is the way to go. No idea of the numbers and causes of the accidents that have occurred there and who knew what and where at this intersection.

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