TOPSHAM, Maine — More than three miles of Route 196 is slated to have a center line rumble strip installed this summer, fully funded by a federal grant as a way to combat the high frequency of head-on crashes on the state highway between Topsham and Lisbon.
Topsham Public Works Director Dennis Cox met with Fire Chief Brian Stockdale, EMS Director Mike Labbe and Police Chief Christopher Lewis last summer after identifying a need to do something about the high volume of crashes occurring on Route 196.
There had been three fatal accidents on the road within a 12-month period, Cox said, so “it was alarming.”
They talked about several ideas from lighting to timing and then decided to call on the Maine Department of Transportation. At that meeting, Topsham officials inquired about rumble strips and how much it would cost the town to have them cut into the road.
The rumble strip is made by milling 7-inch wide by 12-inch long and 3/8-inch deep grooves in the center of the road, between the lanes of traffic. When a driver unintentionally crosses the center line, the rumble strips create noise and vibration inside the vehicle. Often this is enough to alert the distracted driver who can quickly take corrective steering action.
Cox said the two Department of Transportation officials Topsham met with were receptive to the idea of a rumble strip and planned to include it with a number of other rumble strip projects around the state on order to lessen the cost. However within a couple months, Duane Brunell of the Department of Transportation’s safety office told Cox the department had been awarded a federal highway safety grant that will fund the project at 100 percent.
The rumble strip will run from White House Crossing Road in Topsham to the Lisbon Falls town line, a stretch of about 3.5 miles. It would take about three days to install and won’t require any road closures.
The cutouts are shallow enough that they do not make motorcycle travel unsafe. They aren’t as deep or as aggressive as the rumble strips people see on the side of the road along Interstate 295.
“It’s amazing; it’s truly amazing how well they work once they’re installed,” Cox said.
Topsham selectmen unanimously endorsed the project at a March 19 meeting.
“One of the things we did see here in the state this past year,” Brunell said, “was the number of head-on fatalities has really sharply risen from the prior four years. Head-on fatalities from 2010 through 2013 were running 31, 32 per year and in 2014 rose up to 47, so it’s a real area of attention.”
No fatalities have been reported on a stretch of Route 1 in Woolwich since a rumble strip was installed in 2006.
“We’re seeing overall reductions of head-on crashes by more than 50 percent for all the corridors [with rumble strips]” and easily a 75 percent reduction of fatalities, Brunell said.
At the March 19 board meeting, Topsham Selectwoman Ruth Lyons said, “I had a friend killed there three years ago, and there’s more accidents waiting to happen there, so anything we can do to alleviate that is a good start. I’m not sure it’s a fix but it’s a good start to try.”