TRENTON, Maine — People who have been trying to keep track of the number of major traffic delays that have affected motorists driving on and off Mount Desert Island in the past year can be forgiven if they’ve lost count.
On Thursday, it happened again as cars and trucks faced delays from a major road reconstruction project on Route 3 in Trenton. According to a dispatcher with the Bar Harbor Police Department, local police received nearly three dozen calls Thursday morning and early afternoon from angry motorists who reported waiting in line for more than two hours to get off MDI.
“I’ve had at least 35 calls today,” dispatcher Sharon Worcester said midafternoon. “They’re pretty upset when they call.”
Bob Potts, spokesman for Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., said Thursday that the power distribution firm has been doing work along the affected portion of road, installing aviation lights on power poles near where Route 3 passes Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport.
He said that company trucks have not been in the roadway, contrary to anecdotal reports about what is causing the delay. He said Bangor Hydro is sensitive to the safety of its workers and of passing motorists and to the need for people to get where they are going in a timely fashion.
He said that there are many contractors working along the affected section of road, each with its own flagging crew that determines when traffic stops and starts.
“It’s a challenge, I am sure,” Potts said.
Andrew Sankey, emergency management director for Hancock County, said his agency has not been contacted about Thursday’s reported delays, though it has gotten involved in prior incidents along Route 3 that have caused delays on and off MDI. He said area emergency dispatchers try to keep people informed through public media — specifically through the Ellsworth Police Department’s Facebook page — about situations that might create traffic jams or public hazards.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the Maine Department of Transportation indicated that the department and four utility companies have been working on the project. DOT contractor crews switched on Tuesday to a daytime work schedule but, given the logjam, the department has reversed its decision.
“We expected lower traffic volumes due to fewer tourists but we are seeing traffic backups that are more significant than expected,” Brad Foley, DOT Highway program manager, said in the release. “We regret the inconvenience the project has caused and ask for the public’s patience. We are reconstructing this heavily traveled route so we have to be in the roadway — there’s no way around it.”
DOT officials added that there will be work crews along the affected section of road during the day on Friday, Oct. 12, but that both lanes of traffic will be open. As of Monday, all work will revert to a night schedule, likely for the next several weeks. After that, day work could resume if the traffic volume drops off to a manageable level.
“We will be watching week by week,” DOT spokeswoman Meg Lane said.
DOT is trying to complete the $2.3 million project before the 2013 summer tourist season.
The project includes reconstruction of a short section of Route 230 and about half a mile of Route 3 near the intersection of the two roads. The intersection is being rebuilt to include a new traffic signal and turning lanes to improve safety and traffic flow, according to the department.
There have been several traffic delays in the past 12 months on Route 3 between where it intersects Route 230 in Trenton and routes 102 and 198 at the head of the island. This section of road is the only road that connects MDI to the mainland.
Last month, it was the failure of a culvert under Route 3 during a rainstorm that resulted in traffic on and off MDI slowing to a crawl.
In June, an accident involving an Islander Explorer bus resulted in the highway being shut down for six hours as firefighters waited for leaking propane on the bus to dissipate before moving the vehicle out of the roadway.
Last November, a house fire on Route 3 in Trenton resulted in the road being shut down while firefighters tried to put out the flames.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.