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Town’s plan to slow down tourist drivers hits ‘a dead end’ with state officials

Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Drivers turn onto Walker Street through the Kittery Foreside neighborhood in this Seacoast Online file photo.

KITTERY, Maine — The town’s pursuit of lower speed limits to slow down summertime drivers cutting through Kittery neighborhoods has hit a roadblock.

The Maine Department of Transportation didn’t respond in the way Kittery officials had hoped after residents and certain Town Council members sought methods to stop drivers from exiting the Maine Turnpike to avoid tourism season gridlock on Interstate 95.

“I’ve hit a little bit of a dead end here,” Town Manager Kendra Amaral told the Town Council Monday night, describing her talks with the Maine DOT.

Amaral said the DOT’s Randy Illian told her most speed changes require a speed study to be conducted, and Kittery likely would not be successful in lowering the speed limits based on the department’s manual of how it determines speed and applicable engineering principles. Amaral said Illian stated if studies were conducted, some posted speeds on Kittery roads may actually increase — the opposite of the town’s intentions.

[Traffic jams to increase if Maine Turnpike isn’t widened, report claims]

As an alternative, Amaral is now looking at a “technology-based approach” to address wayfinding apps that bring tourists through neighborhoods as cut-through routes. The town had identified the main back road routes typically used to get from the northern part of Kittery to New Hampshire without having to use the turnpike.

A working group charged with examining options to ease 2018 seasonal traffic issues previously recommended 29 stretches of road often used as “cut-throughs.” Members of the group were Town Council Chairman Ken Lemont, Councilor Charles Denault, Police Chief James Soucy and Public Works Commissioner Dave Rich. In April, the Town Council voted 4-1 to have Amaral get in touch with DOT about the reductions.

Certain town councilors previously expressed concern that lowering speed limits in reaction to summer traffic also would be a permanent change year-round, and switching back and forth would cause confusion for motorists.

According to Amaral, Illian said the DOT is backed up on speed requests, so any potential changes could take quite a long time. He explained the department will not post a speed lower than 25 mph unless the road is less than 14 feet wide with two-way traffic, is a dead-end street, or is geometrically unsafe to travel faster than 20 mph.

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