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DEER ISLE, Maine — Just after cresting the enormous suspension bridge over Eggemoggin Reach between Sedgwick and Deer Isle, motorists come to another island connector between the small north and larger south islands of this town.
The causeway was built atop a natural sandbar. It’s a winding stretch just under a half-mile long, just above sea level, so high tide and storm swells can push waves over the narrow roadway. The only thing separating vehicles from open ocean is a series of small coping stones that line the roadside like teeth on a zipper.
According to Maine Department of Transportation data, there have been 11 motor vehicle accidents on the causeway since 2006, all but one of which resulted in injuries. One accident in 2011 killed a Bucksport truck driver after the truck careened off the roadway. The driver was thrown from the truck, which rolled over before coming to rest on top of him.
Now, DOT is considering measures to improve safety on the causeway. That could mean replacing the coping stones with guardrails and/or adding asphalt to widen the road where it’s possible.
The project is in the data-gathering phase now, so there’s no guarantee it will go forward. But the results of the department’s study thus far will be presented at an Oct. 11 meeting at Deer Isle Town Hall, where DOT will take comments from locals.
The initiative was started by Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, who said he has heard many complaints and concerns from his constituents.
“The stone barrier that’s there now doesn’t always — or even usually — keep people from going over,” he said in a Thursday interview.
“The other problem is that if somebody, for lack of attention or something, drifts over a little bit and catches one of those stones, they’re likely to spin along or get pulled over into the next stone. With a guardrail, if you brush up against it, you have a chance to recover.”
Ted Talbot, a spokesman for DOT, said the department is preparing to announce its projects for the next three years, starting with the 2013-2014 construction season.
“In January, we’ll be identifying projects for the next capital work plan,” he said. “This has not yet been identified as a project, which of course means it has yet to be funded.”
A crew of DOT engineers and supervisors, plus Kumiega and Deer Isle Selectmen Neville Hardy and Lew Ellis, were on the causeway in September collecting data, drilling a series of test holes to determine whether a guardrail would even hold. Kumiega said that while there, some engineers said widening the road could be one safety measure.
“We could probably add some asphalt, maybe three feet at most,” Kumiega said. “It may not be a consistent three feet, but we could widen it. Even one foot would be a big help.”
The representative said he’s urging residents to turn up at the Oct. 11 meeting.
“It is critical that the community come to this meeting to show support for the project, since causeway improvements will have to compete for funding with other projects,” he wrote in a statement.
“We need a safe and secure route for our people and for our goods. The economy of the island, from the incoming tourists to the outgoing lobsters, clams and granite, travel over this dangerous road.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.