BAR HARBOR, Maine — On occasion, the fact that there is only one way to drive a vehicle on or off Mount Desert Island becomes readily apparent to anyone who tries to do it.
Sometimes it is a motor vehicle accident that stops traffic on the Route 3 causeway that connects MDI to Trenton. In October 2006, the bridge had to be closed for several hours after a windstorm blew over the utility poles on the causeway into the road. In June 2003, it was a slow-moving procession from Ellsworth to MDI of a tall apple tree on a trailer that made some commuters hours late to their jobs on the island.
On Monday, it was a road project that brought cars and trucks to a grinding halt.
Beginning this summer, the Maine Department of Transportation has been reconfiguring the intersection at the head of MDI, where Routes 198 and 102 branch off Route 3. One of the goals of the project has been to move the traffic light slightly farther east on Route 3 toward downtown Bar Harbor so that vehicles headed onto the island on Routes 198 and 102 toward Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor might be able to avoid having to stop.
Road crews have spent a good part of the summer repaving Route 3 in Trenton, working at night in order to avoid more substantial daytime traffic. But according to DOT spokesman Mark Latti, evening and nighttime temperatures have grown too cold to allow crews to pave during off-hours.
So on Monday, road crews were working in nice weather to pave the reconfigured intersection while people were taking advantage of the Columbus Day holiday to make a day trip to the island or to return home from a three-day weekend.
“We do try to minimize impacts, but we can’t always do it and we’re getting to the end of the [road construction] season now,” Latti said Monday evening. “It’s a short-term thing.”
Dispatchers with area police departments said they received dozens of calls over several hours about Monday’s traffic jam. Many of the callers were irate that traffic was moving so slowly or at times seemed to be making no headway at all, dispatchers said.
Some motorists said they were stuck in traffic for more than an hour before getting through the intersection, while some people reportedly got out of their cars and walked around near the side of the road before the line started moving again. On MDI, traffic at one point was backed up from the intersection past where Northeast Creek flows under Route 3 into Eastern Bay, a stretch of about 2 miles.
Other motorists said the project intermittently held up traffic throughout the holiday weekend. On Friday the traffic light at the intersection was malfunctioning, which made what is normally a half-hour drive between Ellsworth and Bar Harbor about twice as long, according to one dispatcher.
On Tuesday, traffic was flowing smoothly again because rain kept work crews away.
Latti said the project is expected to be completed in July 2010. He said the project will be put on hold for the winter sometime next month and will resume again in the spring.