Is Route 1A in Dedham a safe highway? Recent data indicate yes

Traffic travels on Wednesday on Route 1A in Dedham near the Lucerne Inn.
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Traffic travels on Wednesday on Route 1A in Dedham near the Lucerne Inn.
Posted Aug. 08, 2014, at 5:58 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 08, 2014, at 7:30 p.m.

DEDHAM, Maine — Over the past four years, three vehicles have crossed the centerline on Route 1A in Dedham and caused a fatal accident. The latest was Tuesday, when an 85-year-old Iowa man crossed the centerline in his Chevrolet Tahoe and struck a pickup truck carrying two people from Bangor.

All three were killed, bringing the death toll from these accidents to seven since 2010.

Despite this record, the 6.68-mile stretch of Route 1A in Dedham is still not dangerous enough to require barriers separating two-way traffic, according to the Maine Department of Transportation, which maintains the roadway.

Also, centerline rumble strips installed on Route 1A in 2011 apparently have been effective in reducing the number of accidents on the stretch where Tuesday’s crash occurred.

Maine Department of Transportation uses a complicated formula to measure a roadway’s “critical crash rate” to determine if improvements or upgrades are needed, according to Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Transportation Department.

Using that formula, the Maine Department of Transportation has determined the stretch of Route 1A in Dedham is “not a high-crash location,” he said Wednesday.

This could be because of safety elements — the rumble strips — added to Route 1A in the past.

Shortly after a family of three from Jonesport died near the spot of Tuesday’s crash in 2010, the Department of Transportation approached the town about adding centerline rumble strips on portions of the roadway, said Dedham Administrative Assistant Michelle Begin.

Rumble strips alert drivers who cross the centerline that they are at risk of a head-on collision, and they apparently have been effective in Dedham.

In addition to the three deaths in 2010, there were 36 other crashes, 12 with injuries, and 24 involved only property damage.

For 2011, when the rumble strips were installed, there was one death, five crashes with injuries and 17 with property damage. In 2012, there was one accident with injury and 12 with property damage, and 2013 had one crash with injuries and 11 with property damage.

“[Tuesday’s crash] is the first fatality since the rumble strips were put in, in 2011,” Begin said. “There was another — that Massachusetts man who died — but it was [near] the town office, and there is no rumble strip here.”

Dallas Whatley, 39, of Taunton, Massachusetts, was killed on Dec. 20, 2011, when his car crossed the centerline of Route 1A near the Dedham town office and hit a pickup.

Overall, the number of fatal crashes in Maine that involved a driver crossing the centerline has hovered in the 20s in recent years, but it did spike to 31 in 2013, James Tanner, fatal accident system analyst for the Bureau of Highway Safety, said Thursday.

The year-to-date data include 14 crossover crashes involving fatalities, but that did not include Tuesday’s crash since the bureau has not yet received the accident report, the analyst said.

The first six months of 2014 saw about 500 head-on crashes in Maine with a total of 28 deaths, public safety and transportation officials announced in July. Maine averages about 28,800 annual motor vehicle crashes, and in 2013, it tallied 768 head-on crashes.

Other safety elements, such as cable median barriers to prevent head-on collisions, are regular sights on divided highways in Maine.

Since 2006, the state has spent some $5.6 million on cable median barriers to thwart head-on collisions on divided highways. (At the same time, $300,000 has been spent on installing centerline rumble strips.)

But Maine Department of Transportation officials say barriers are not practical on the heavily traveled Route 1A because of the many driveways and side roads that connect to it.

The average daily traffic for Route 1A through Dedham is 11,000 vehicles, with more in summer and less in winter months.

“[Cable median barriers] are a solution that works on a limited access road,” Duane Brunell, Maine Department of Transportation safety manager, said Friday in an email.

Although state officials have not suggested barriers for the roadway to town officials, said Begin, some have suggested adding warning signs or reducing the speed limit.

To do so would require town officials to take action, according to the state.

“If the town requests a traffic study, we will consider all options,” Talbot said.

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