FALMOUTH — Drivers regularly using Bucknam Road will have to get used to a new traffic pattern starting next year.
The Maine Department of Transportation will widen the road to add dedicated turn lanes and install a new traffic light at the intersection with the northbound on-ramp to Interstate 295.
The $640,000 project is slated to begin in spring 2017 and be completed sometime in the fall. The changes are being made because the DOT has flagged the intersection as a high-crash location, with more than 20 accidents over the last three years.
The traffic accidents were mostly rear-end and side-impact collisions, according to Al Godfrey, a traffic engineer hired to consult with the DOT on the Bucknam Road project.
The cost of construction will come entirely from the state, although the town is considering paying about $100,000 to install a signal pole instead of a traffic light on a wire that the state wants to put up.
Both Bucknam Road and the I-295 off ramp will be widened, Godfrey said at a public hearing held at Town Hall on Nov. 30, which drew only a few residents and state Sen. Cathy Breen, whose district includes Falmouth.
Bucknam Road would be widened to allow for dedicated right- and left-turning lanes onto the northbound on-ramp for I-295. In addition, Godfrey said, the off-ramp from the highway leading to Bucknam Road would be widened, with an 180-foot long right-turn lane.
Godfrey said more than 14,000 cars go through the intersection of Bucknam Road and I-295 each day, and the traffic improvements are designed to improve safety.
Although the town is working on a bicycle and pedestrian master plan that includes Bucknam Road, Godfrey said sidewalks would not be included in the state project. However, complying with a request from Falmouth, the project will be designed to allow a 5-foot wide sidewalk to be laid on the south side of Bucknam Road when the town is ready to make that investment.
Godfrey said the new traffic signal would be integrated with others on Route 1 and farther up Bucknam Road, leading to southbound I-295, to better coordinate traffic and to avoid having vehicles back up to Route 1 or backing up on the Bucknam Road off-ramp.
John Winslow, one of the residents at the public hearing, was concerned that the state is only willing to install a traffic light on an overhanging wire, when the town has just spent “$13 million on beautification for Route 1. I think we’re going backward with a (wire) traffic signal. We owe it to the town to (upgrade) to a signal pole after so much money was spent.”
Bill Moulton, another resident who also attended the public hearing, called the state project “only a Band-Aid,” and also asked why DOT is not installing what he called a deceleration lane for those exiting I-295 at Bucknam Road.
“Nobody should be going 50 mph or less in a travel lane” on the highway he said, as he continued to argue for a separate turn lane for those slowing down to get off at Exit 10.
Breen’s questions had more to do with logistics; she wondered if the state would provide any new signs and more lighting to make the changes to the intersection clear to motorists. Breen was assured that would be the case.
According to Jay Reynolds, Falmouth’s public works director, the intersection of Bucknam Road and I-295 north is “the highest crash location in town. It’s a safety issue out there and (this project should) be of high value to motorists.”
“The improvements proposed by (the DOT) at this intersection will alleviate many of the traffic safety issues that exist,” Reynolds added.
In addition to a new traffic pattern at the intersection of Bucknam Road and I-295 north, the town is planning intersection upgrades at the intersection of Falmouth, Middle and Bucknam roads.
These upgrades “are designed to address increased traffic demands at this location,” Reynolds said. “The concept design is to upgrade the traffic signals and also possibly provide two left turn lanes from Middle Road southbound onto Bucknam Road.”
Reynolds did not indicate, however, when those upgrades could take place.
The Maine Department of Transportation is planning several changes at this intersection of Bucknam Road and northbound Interstate 295 to improve motorist safety.
Brian Keezer, left, a project manager with the Maine Department of Transportation, reviews the project design for changes to the intersection of Interstate 295 north and Bucknam Road, with traffic consultant Al Godfrey, at a Nov. 30 public hearing in Falmouth.