BELFAST, Maine — City officials are hoping that a $100,000 grant from the Maine Department of Transportation and some clever configuring will help to calm traffic and make it safer at one of Belfast’s busiest, and most problematic, intersections.
Route 141 meets U.S. Route 1, the busy coastal thoroughfare, at an intersection that is known for long waits and nervous moments, as pedestrians dart across traffic to get to destinations including the East Belfast School.
“It is a dangerous intersection and it causes a lot of traffic congestion, particularly in the summer or during peak traffic hours,” Belfast City Councilor Nancy Hamilton said Thursday. “For people who have had to sit — and wait and wait and wait — it will certainly be a help. We do have a lot of people on the east side who do use that crosswalk. Anything we can do to make that safer will be great.”
The City of Belfast and the Maine DOT identified the intersection as being in need of improvements to address issues including speeding traffic, and pedestrian and vehicular safety, according to a memorandum sent to city officials earlier this month by Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers of Gray.
One of the engineers from that firm will make a presentation at the Feb. 5 city council meeting, just before a public hearing on the matter, according to Belfast Assistant Planner James Francomano.
He said that after paying for engineering and other fees, the city will have about $78,000 left for construction. Some ideas include:
• Putting up more advance warning signs about the upcoming intersection, crosswalk and decrease in speed limit.
• Upgrading the older pedestrian crosswalk with more vivid flashing lights, at a cost of about $4,500.
• Reconstructing a corner of the intersection to ‘visually reduce’ the turning radius onto and off of Route 141, which Francomano said could cost as much as $40,500.
• Widening Route 141 to provide longer turning lanes approaching the intersection, which could cost between $7,500 and $54,000.
“We want to get motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic better into their respective channels,” the planner said. “It’s a route to school and it’s a major regional artery, so there’s a lot of potential for conflict between motor vehicle and pedestrian circulation. … We know of families that [use the crosswalk], parents and kids pushing bikes.”
Hamilton said that she is “very happy” that the DOT has been so responsive to the city’s financial and practical concerns.
“The DOT seemed to have some very cost-effective solutions to the problems,” she said. “It’s just now a question of prioritizing these suggestions that they have. We can’t do everything they say with $100,000.”
Mayor Walter Ash, whose East Side Garage business is located not far from the intersection, said that he’s not sure the spot should be highest priority for the city. One reason why it’s dangerous is because pedestrians often cross at a spot where the crosswalk used to be located before being moved to a slightly less busy part of Route 1.
“It is a bad intersection, no second guessing that. Are there worse intersections around? Probably,” he said. “There’s been a few accidents, but not as bad as you might think.”