Officials debrief Aug. 2  traffic nightmare

Driver error: Pulling stop sign could have prevented hangup
By Jordan Bailey | Sep 02, 2017
Source: Department of Public Safety This tractor-trailer truck carrying a windmill blade bottomed out attempting to exit Trundy Road onto Route 1 in Searpsort Aug. 2, causing hours of traffic tie-ups.

Searsport — The first Wednesday of August remains in the minds of many Searsport drivers as a day of extreme frustration. A trailer carrying a windmill blade got stuck coming out of the port at Mack Point, blocking Route 1 for five to six hours. Complicating traffic problems were tree-trimming work downtown, paving on roads where traffic was diverted, and confusion about the detour route. A month later some people are still angry.

The Republican Journal asked people outside Tozier’s Family Market Aug. 31 if they remembered the traffic jams that occurred that day.

“It sucked!” said one customer who did not want to be named.

“I was rerouted off into the willywacks — into the wilderness,” said another. “There were no signs, there was nobody there to tell anybody where they should be going. As far as I’m concerned the transportation company should be held accountable for being incompetent to move the equipment and the EMS people should be embarrassed.”

Bill Meier of Stockton Springs said, "In my humble opinion, that intersection is totally not set up for what they have as traffic going through there. They need to redo that intersection. That is a choke point, and if they're going to be bringing stuff that big in, they need to have the space to maneuver and they don't have it."

Another customer said she thought there was confusion with the detours because people were using navigation software that wasn’t accurate.

“There are roads in Maine where if you follow (navigation software) you end up on a road that doesn’t exist anymore,” she said. Of the bottleneck on Route 1, she said, “Searsport is like that. This is the road, and we like it that way because it brings people into town, but it’s also tough to get around (when it is closed).”

Patrick Kelley, owner of Coastal Café, said he was forced to close the restaurant for half the day. “The detour started there,” he said, pointing to Goodell Road, “and our café is there,” pointing a few doors beyond.

Police Chief Dick LaHaye said Aug. 29 there is a plan in place for rerouting traffic when Route 1 needs to be shut down. But, he said, the situation Aug. 2 did not allow for the plan to be implemented because of the amount of traffic between the entrance and exit of the planned detour.

He said he received about five complaint messages in which “the F-bomb was prevalent,” but pointed out the elements that created the traffic problems were not the fault of the department. The police were not informed that Central Maine Power Co. would be doing tree work that day, and he noted the trimming company provides its own flaggers. About the tractor-trailer getting stuck, he said, “accidents happen.”

“Patience is a virtue,” he said, but added, “Next time we’ll do better.”

Emergency Management Director Almon "Bud" Rivers said flaggers who initially redirected traffic did not know the established emergency detour routes. The detour routes were chosen by the local EMA because the roads can handle tractor-trailer trucks in both directions, he said.

Rivers said Sept. 1 he first learned about the incident when he went on an errand and saw what looked like Route 1 traffic coming from Savery Road onto Mount Ephraim Road. He suspected local departments had not been contacted about the official detour routes.

The official routes, Rivers said, are: Route 1A to Hawes Bridge, North Searsport, Nickels and Mount Ephraim roads if the the accident is on the east side of town, and Prospect Street to Back Searsport Road to Swan Lake Avenue and back to Route 1 if the accident is on the west side of town.

The routes are the same, but reversed, going in the northbound direction. Those routes are permanently marked with blue and green detour signs, which are as large as Maine Department of Transportation allows for permanent signs.

Rivers told the Board of Selectmen at the Aug. 15 meeting that, normally, fire trucks would be set up at the intersection of routes 1 and 1A, and at the intersection of Route 1A and Hawes Bridge Road, and people would be stationed at these points to tell drivers where to go and to let local traffic through to points between the detour point and the accident.

“If you need to, call me I’ll set up a one-man EOC (emergency operations center) and set up emergency detours with whichever towns and police departments we need to,” he said. “We have 14 emergency detour signs over there we can put out to make even clearer.”

Town Manager James Gillway said at the meeting that residents also contacted him with concerns about what would have been done if emergency vehicles needed to get through.

Northbound semi-trailer trucks were able to get around the accident by being directed down Navy Street and across a parking lot, he said, and emergency vehicles would have been directed to do the same.

Selectman Dick Desmarais suggested there be an automatic dispatch from Stockton Springs in situations like that, in case Searsport emergency vehicles are delayed.

Gillway said the company transporting windmill parts that day is New York-based Dagen Trucking Inc. He said he has established a direct line of communication with the company's manager and found him to be very professional.

Gillway was told two trailers were being used to move the windmill blade: the one in front had rear steering, but the one in the back had a fixed axle.

“For that particular trailer, they need to pull the stop sign out and drive up on the curb, which is graded,” Gillway said. “The driver didn’t realize they had to do that and that’s why he got stuck.”

Lieutenant Aaron Hayden, troop commander for State Police Troop D, Augusta, said Aug. 31 that State Police are required to escort large transports and explained the permitting process.

The transport company must provide Maine Department of Transportation the weight and dimensions of the item to be transported as well as a site evaluation. DOT evaluates the route and determines whether the item is too heavy for bridges and if it can make all the turns. The department may suggest improvements, such as adding sloping or removing signs. The Trundy Road intersection is approved for transporting windmill parts, but removing the stop sign is necessary, Hayden said.

Searsport's Mack Point is the main port in the state for windmill components, he said, because the parts are too large to maneuver out of Portland's port and Eastport's does not have a laydown facility large enough to store them. Last year, he said, State Police escorted 300 windmill parts out of Mack Point.

He said the accident occurred at the beginning of a two-week period from Aug. 1 to Aug. 16 in which windmill parts were transported from the port every day.

“We moved (approximately) three blades and two nacelle drive trains per day for two weeks,” he said. “That one instance where there was a traffic tie-up was because of driver error. That company had never been to Maine and had never made a left turn out of the port entry road. Had the driver set up correctly, it wouldn’t have occurred.”

Dagen Trucking did not return calls Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 seeking comment.

“People make mistakes all the time, and we have to shut down a road,” Hayden said. “Because of a similar situation we had to shut down a road today.”

Rivers said he plans to speak at the next Waldo EMA meeting about the confusion and will suggest that when State Police are directing traffic, they should contact local agencies to learn established detour routes.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Sep 02, 2017 23:59

Is the trucking company responsible for the driver error to repay Coastal Coffee loss of business for half of day?



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Jordan M Bailey
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Jordan Bailey has been working for The Republican Journal since 2013. She studied philosophy at Boston College and has experience in marine science education and journalism. She lives in Belfast.

 

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