Work begins on traffic circle in Blue Hill

This sketch shows the &quottemplate" used in the design of the planned roundabout in Blue Hill, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.
Maine Department of Transportation
This sketch shows the "template" used in the design of the planned roundabout in Blue Hill, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.
Posted April 10, 2013, at 4:18 p.m.
Last modified April 11, 2013, at 11:08 a.m.

BLUE HILL, Maine — Work has begun to build the first roundabout in Hancock County, and officials say everything is on schedule to be finished by August.

The roundabout is being constructed at the four-way intersection of state routes 15, 172, 176 and 175 in Blue Hill. The intersection — which feeds traffic into the Blue Hill Peninsula, Deer Isle, Ellsworth and points beyond — was deemed a “high-crash location” by the state Department of Transportation, a designation given to any intersection with more than eight accidents in a three-year period.

There were 13 accidents at the Tenney Hill intersection from 2009 through 2011, about half of which resulted in injuries. DOT spokesman Ted Talbot has said the roundabout is a proven way to make intersections more safe.

The single-lane roundabout will reduce the likelihood of accidents, he said, because everyone entering the intersection will be directed the same way around the circle, and will exit into a lane separated from oncoming traffic. The traffic feature eliminates left-hand turns entirely, which are more likely to cause accidents than right-hand turns.

Crews from the Ellsworth construction firm R.F. Jordan & Sons last week began clearing the intersection of trees and brush, the first step in installing the traffic circle. The company was the low bidder on the project, taking the contract with a price tag of $842,000.

Because Maine’s long, cold winters aren’t suited for roadwork, DOT officials say the roundabout project, like others, had to be scheduled for the busy summer tourism months. So they’re urging commuters and day trippers alike to plan for delays at the Blue Hill intersection.

“As with any project, there will be an inevitable disruption,” Atlee Mousseau, the civil engineer who designed the Blue Hill roundabout, said Wednesday. “We don’t have any plans for road closures. We are hoping that local traffic may find other ways around. At this point, there are no plans to formally divert traffic.”

Mousseau said that while the project isn’t expected to be completed until August, the construction crew will likely try to get traffic moving around the circle as soon as possible. There’s always a short learning curve when roundabouts are brought to a community the first time, he said, so the sooner drivers get used to it, the better.

Initial confusion is “fairly typical, especially when it’s the first one in an area,” he said. “But because they’re pretty simple to use, people catch on pretty quickly, especially with a single lane.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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