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DOT proposes elimination of Route 1 jug handle

By Kendra Caruso | Aug 22, 2019
File photo

Belfast — After City Manager Joe Slocum presented a plan by Maine Department of Transportation to eliminate the jug handle linking Route 1 and Northport Avenue, city councilors were predominantly against the project.

It would remove the jug handle and widen the mouth of Northport Avenue on Route 1 to accept incoming and outgoing traffic. There would be no raised medians in the area and a left-turn lane would be installed on Route 1.

Maine DOT public crash records indicate there has been a steady increase of crashes in the area over the past five years. There were two crashes in 2016, five crashes in 2017 and six crashes in 2018. There have been a total of 23 crashes in the past 10 years.

While it is designated as a high-crash location by Maine DOT, records show there are other intersections in the city with more crashes.

Slocum met with Maine DOT officials the week before the Aug. 20 council meeting. The state is seeking support from the city as it competes for federal grants, and it needs to submit applications for the project soon to compete for the funds.

There was some confusion at the City Council meeting about the competitive nature of the project. Some councilors thought the competition referred to highway safety projects, but the competition is for federal grants to pay for the changes, Slocum clarified on Thursday.

Slocum said he thinks the jug handle represents one of many safety concerns Maine DOT has about intersections in Belfast, but he noted that funding for road projects is limited. He speculated that the department suggested the jug handle project because it is financially viable.

Councilors criticized Maine DOT’s decision to eliminate the jug handle rather than address more dangerous intersections. Councilor Eric Sanders said there are more pressing safety concerns in other areas of the city.

“It (the jug handle) works so much better than the three other intersections that we’ve complained about over the years,” Sanders said. “But they pick this one and they need to know because of competition. I mean, I’m really beyond words about how this makes me feel.”

Nancy Smith and her husband Harry have lived on John Robinson Way, which is near the jug handle, for over 32 years. The couple attended the City Council meeting and Nancy Smith urged councilors to oppose the project. She said they use the jug handle to access their road during seasons of heavy traffic.

Smith said a raised median right before Northport Avenue might prevent her from turning left into the road she lives on. She said she thinks it is unsafe to eliminate the jug handle, which would force her to make a left turn across busy Route 1. Smith also said the change could affect business at the dental office on John Robinson Way.

“As I understand it … if they eliminate the jug handle and make a left turn, we are then going to be forced to make a left turn into our driveways, which is very unsafe,” Smith said.

She suggested installing signs to warn drivers about the intersection ahead and narrowing Northport Avenue where vehicles enter Route 1 so there is only one car pulling out at a time.

Discussions ended with councilors suggesting a Maine DOT representative speak in Belfast about the reasons for the project. They will make a decision at a later meeting.

“I wonder if we could invite them to meet with us,” Mayor Samantha Paradis said. “Because it’s clear that they’ve chosen this without our input and after the fact said, ‘we’ve already studied this. We want to submit it to a competition.’ But we have other priorities we want submitted to the competition.”



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Comments (1)
Posted by: Eric Schrader | Aug 24, 2019 07:53

Did anyone from the City ask the DOT why they replaced the directional signs on US1 with that monstrosity that costs upwards of $ 60,000 for labor and materials, when they can't even maintain the ROW from the bridge to Lincolnville Ave. You've got trees growing out of the concrete median and weeds as tall as corn on the off ramps. Maybe if someone like Bob Richards would actually drive around town and take note of these deficiencies and call his buddies up in Augusta, we might not look like fools. And the rusting bridge overpass at Route 3 with all the graffiti covered walls looks just splendid. I can just imagine what the thousands of tourists think when they roll into town. Maybe the City needs to do the work themselves and backcharge the DOT for the work that they should have done since there is no road restoration going on this summer and we are a week away from Sept. 1st. Times a wasting!

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