LEVANT, Maine — Safety improvements at a deadly intersection in West Levant are still in the works, but a plan to add a fourth stop has been eliminated, Bruce Mattson, regional traffic engineer for the Maine Department of Transportation, said Friday. The confusing junction now has stops on three of the four roads that converge at the intersection.
While adding a fourth stop recently was discussed, the proposal “was rescinded because a four-way stop probably wouldn’t stop the type of collisions that have happened” at the intersection, Mattson said. It was decided, “it wouldn’t be productive.”
The intersection was the site of a fatal accident on May 26 that sent nine people to the hospital and claimed the life of a 5-year-old girl two days later. Her 7-year-old brother remains in critical condition at a local hospital.
The real problem that needs to be addressed is how to alert drivers heading from Stetson into Levant along the West Stetson Road, also known as Route 222, that there is a stop ahead, Mattson said.
According to crash data collected between 1999 and 2008, drivers coming from Stetson often fail to stop at the stop sign at the four-way junction.
“They either run the stop sign or stop and go through” the intersection, Mattson said.
State Traffic Engineer Bruce Ibarguen and Mattson, met this week with Levant Town Manager Scott Pullen, other town officials and the owner of the nearby store to discuss how to increase safety at the deadly intersection.
“That idea [to add a fourth stop sign] was squashed,” Pullen said Friday.
The group of state and local officials decided that improving visibility for drivers traveling toward the intersection from Stetson would go far to address the safety concerns. They also decided to reduce the speed limit from 45 mph to 30 mph one-quarter mile before the intersection on Union Street and Stetson Road West, both of which are known as Route 222, to remove all nonessential signs, to add pavement markers and to trim or remove trees.
Adding a fourth stop would only result in more accidents, Mattson said.
“If you put up a four-way stop sign at an intersection that has not required drivers to stop for 40 years, people are going to blow through that intersection,” he said, adding that rear-end collisions also would occur. “There will be more crashes, and the people coming from Stetson still aren’t going to stop.”
In the last decade, 12 crashes at the three-stop intersection have been reported to the DOT. Four happened in 2006, two that were serious. In the fall of that year DOT crews installed larger stop signs and doubled the number from three to six by putting one sign on each side of the road facing drivers. Stop-ahead signs also were added and trees in the area were trimmed.
“Why are they blowing through a stop sign with all that signage? Why?” Mattson asked rhetorically on Friday.
Drivers on Stetson Road West heading east, Avenue Road and Stetson Road East heading west all must stop at the intersection. Only those heading outbound from Bangor on Union Street have the right of way and do not have to stop.
In most of the crashes at the troubled intersection, “People from Bangor are getting broadsided by people coming in from Stetson,” Mattson said.
The crash statistics do not include last week’s deadly collision. In that crash, William Buzzard, 30, of Bradford was heading home from Stetson in a minivan with his wife, three of his children and another child.
He was driving east on Stetson Road West when he attempted to cross the intersection to get onto Stetson Road East and was hit by a 2007 Jeep Liberty, driven by a Levant woman, Sgt. Scott Young of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department has said. The Jeep was outbound from Bangor on Union Street.
After the minivan was hit by the Jeep, it ricocheted and struck a GMC pickup truck driven by a Carmel man that was stopped at the stop sign on Stetson Road East.
All four children in the minivan were injured in the crash, Young said. Alyssa Buzzard, 5, died two days later at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Her older brother Caden Buzzard, 7, has been in critical condition at EMMC since the crash.
“Nothing has changed,” with his condition, a nursing supervisor said Friday night.
The other two children and five adults were treated at the hospital and later released.