ORONO, Maine — Anyone who has driven through downtown after a sports or performing arts event at the University of Maine campus knows how long the wait at the traffic lights can be.
Orono Public Works Director Rob Yerxa hopes a coming project will alleviate some of that congestion. The town recently received grant money to help regulate the lights during peak hours, which will in theory regulate traffic flow and make it easier to drive through downtown.
The grant also includes funds to replace pedestrian crossing signals at some of the downtown intersections.
Funding for the project, which comes to $110,000, was secured through the Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System, or BACTS, which was part of a larger grant proposal submitted to the Maine Department of Transportation.
The town is required to provide a 25 percent match, which comes to $27,500. Yerxa said the matching funds will be included in the budget for the coming fiscal year.
Orono’s Town Council approved the project earlier this week.
The project includes replacing the existing controllers at the intersections of Mill and Main streets, Pine and Main streets, and College Avenue and Park Street, which is an extension of Main Street, and installing fiber connections from Park to Pine streets.
“The improved traffic flow, we’re hoping, allows for a safer traffic flow, too, [because] as people get backed up they get frustrated,” Yerxa said. “There will also be better cues for pedestrians as they try to navigate the intersections.”
The fiber connection will allow the Park and Pine intersections to communicate, which Yerxa said will better regulate traffic flow during peak times, such as the evening flow of cars from the UMaine campus or after hockey games at Alfond Arena.
“Those two intersections can basically talk to each other to take care of special event situations,” he said. “The intersections can react so that we have a longer green phase. This will work so you can drive straight through town, make the light and continue through town.”
The grant also includes funds to upgrade the signals and detection mechanism of the pedestrian lights at those intersections. The upgrades include video detection and countdown pedestrian signals so pedestrians know exactly how long they have to cross the intersection.
However, Councilor Mark Haggerty said erratic traffic lights, no matter how annoying to drivers, tend to slow down traffic. Consideration should still be given to pedestrian safety, he added, as the green lights become more regular.
“If we get all these lights going green, we’re going to be picking up traffic speed going down Main Street and I’d at least consider pedestrian safety along with traffic flow, especially at different times of day,” he said.
Yerxa said pedestrian safety will be taken into account.
The work is expected to be finished by December 2010 — just before the busy part of UMaine’s ice hockey schedule starts.
Yerxa said the intersection of Center and Main streets in Old Town, along with some intersections in Portland, also are included in the larger MDOT grant.