ELLSWORTH, Maine — Over the span of three hours on a foggy night this past week, two cars failed to navigate a confusing curve on Route 1A in Ellsworth and instead found themselves rumbling down the railroad tracks.
Just three days earlier, another driver following her GPS went straight where Route 1A bends to the right. Like the other two mishaps, her vehicle ended up on the tracks and was damaged considerably in the process.
Lt. Harold Page of the Ellsworth Police Department said three wayward cars in four days — never mind two in one night — is highly unusual. But in any given summer, five or six cars driving the heavily traveled road between Bangor and Bar Harbor will typically miss the curve.
“It is obviously a problem,” Page said.
The problem is actually multifaceted. The curvature of Route 1A is somewhat obscured by a slight rise or dip in the road, depending on your direction of travel. Further complicating matters, Routes 179 and 180, as well as the railroad tracks, all come together in that one intersection.
And while the double-yellow lines were repainted fairly recently, the white shoulder lines are faded or nonexistent in many areas. Additionally, the double-yellow lines disappear at the intersection of Routes 179 and 180 to indicate a turn.
The result is often a jumble of cars coming and going at odd angles that can confuse even regular users of the road, especially at night or when visibility is poor. All three of this past week’s incidents occurred at night in fog or rain and involved out-of-state drivers.
“This is a tough intersection at this triangle. It always has been,” said Brian Ryder, manager of the Sunrise Glass shop located at the juncture.
Over the years, Sunrise Glass employees have seen plenty of accidents and close calls. Ryder said employees’ cars have been hit by drivers cutting across the pavement in front of the business while attempting to turn right onto Route 1A instead of waiting at the stop sign. And earlier this year, a driver was seriously injured — and Sunrise Glass’ concrete patio seriously damaged — when a woman failed to navigate the Route 1A curve while headed toward Bangor.
Options for major improvements at the intersection have been discussed for years.
One improvement could come soon when the Maine Department of Transportation removes the narrow, one-lane bridge over Graham Lake and re-engineers Route 180 to follow the west bank of the Union River. Route 180 then will connect to Route 1A via Vittum Road, potentially reducing traffic turning at the problematic intersection. The DOT has budgeted $6.3 million toward the project.
After the recent spate of accidents, police strung yellow “police line” tape across the railroad tracks as a temporary deterrent, although the solution is short-lived since Downeast Scenic Railroad will resume use of the tracks over Memorial Day weekend.
Lt. Page also called Bruce Mattson in the DOT’s Bangor office to inquire about additional warnings for drivers.
Mattson said Friday that he plans to look into the possibility of erecting additional prominent yellow signs advising drivers about the curve and the intersection. And he said road crews typically repaint the white shoulder lines once a year on major roads, such as Route 1A, so new striping for that stretch could be in the works.
But as the summer tourist season approaches, Page seemed resigned to the prospect of more cars missing the curve and ending up on the railroad tracks with damaged tires or underbodies. Thankfully, he said, most incidents at the intersection only result in vehicle damage.
“The good thing about it is that it is a reduced-speed zone,” Page said.