BANGOR, Maine — While it’s not considered one of the more dangerous intersections in Bangor or the state, the one where Third Street meets Cedar Street is one of the most problematic.
After a couple of attempts to increase safety and decrease the frequency of accidents at the limited visibility intersection, the Maine Department of Transportation hopes its latest refinement will help motorists drive more safely.
The MDOT has introduced a $25,000 radar-based system called an Intersection Crash Avoidance System, or ICAS. It is one of only four that the department has installed in the state so far.
“We put the first one in Norridgewock seven or eight years ago,” said Steve Landry, MDOT assistant traffic engineer. “We’d rather not put a lot of them out there.
“We try not to overuse some of these approaches in order to get more compliance and safety because the more they’re out there, the more people get used to them and disregard them.”
So what makes this intersection — along with those in Norridgewock, Sanford and Lebanon — the exception to the rule?
“It has had a long history of crashes and accidents,” said Bangor City Engineer Art Morgan. “That particular intersection has a high incidence level of crashes, primarily because of poor visibility and the slopes of Cedar Street.”
The system involves a digital readout on a screen mounted on a telephone pole, visible to motorists approaching the stop signs on Third Street. When cars travel up or down Cedar Street, digital outlines of cars light up on the screens — on one side for cars going down the hill and on the other for those coming up.
“When you’re stopped at the light at Third, you’ll see an approaching-vehicle diagram of one approaching,” said Morgan.
Before the ICAS was installed, the MDOT put in flashing red lights above the intersection on Third Street and flashing yellows on Cedar. Stop signs are also on Third Street.
“This is really a Band-aid approach,” said Landry. “There’s not a lot of room there to do major construction, and you don’t want to create one problem to solve another.”
Landry said MDOT officials gave serious consideration to creating a roundabout at the intersection about seven or eight years ago.
“Yes, but you’ve got quite a construction upgrade requirement there,” he said. “We put in some bump-outs so the sidewalks jut more out into the intersection, but that had somewhat minimal results.”
Landry said the MDOT studies and evaluates high-crash locations all over the state and puts out a work plan every two years.
“We looked at putting this in about two years ago and started work in July,” said Landry, who added that the radar is still being adjusted for optimum performance. “It’s not a perfect fix, but it should help, and there really isn’t a downside to it.”
Charles Ohlwine, a North Carolina native who moved to a house on the corner of the intersection at 115 Cedar in July, 2011, says he thinks the system is helping safety, albeit slowly.
“When we first moved in here, two vans collided right here at this intersection and it took about 30 minutes for the cops to get here,” he said. “Sometimes they slow down. I think it’ll help, but it’ll take some time.”