Cumberland asks state to reduce Orchard Road speed limit

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CUMBERLAND — The town will ask the Maine Department of Transportation to reduce the speed limit on a portion of Orchard Road.

Several residents at Monday’s Town Council meeting, held at the West Cumberland Recreation Hall, said that while the street was walkable a few decades ago, speeding motorists now make it dangerous for pedestrians.

Orchard Road has a 35 mph limit between Blanchard and Whitney roads, and a 40 mph limit from the Whitney Road intersection to North Yarmouth, where Orchard becomes Haskell Road.

In response to a similar speed limit reduction request from the town a few years ago, when all of Orchard was 35 mph, DOT decided after a traffic study that an increase to 40 on the northern part of the road was appropriate, Town Manager Bill Shane said in an Aug. 7 memo to the Town Council.

The DOT, not the town, sets the speed limit on all town and state roads, Assistant Town Manager Chris Bolduc told Monday’s meeting.

“We are looking to reduce the speed limit on the entire road to 30 mph due to the increase in pedestrian use, farming operations from two animal farms and apple orchards, and the lack of paved shoulders,” Bolduc noted in an email Tuesday.

A week-long speed detail last month at 14 Orchard Road, using the Police Department’s radar trailer in the 35 mph section, showed an average speed of about 34 mph, a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 57. Motorists do tend to slow down when approaching a stop sign near there, “so I’m not sure if they really got a good idea of … the speed of the cars,” Bolduc said.

Housing along Orchard Road has increased significantly since DOT’s prior traffic study, and “I think it is a viable time to request the DOT to at least take another look at it,” Bolduc said.

Councilors unanimously unauthorized sending the request to the state agency.

Lifelong Cumberland resident Liz Tarantino, of Daffodil Lane, off Orchard Road’s 40 mph section, recalled being able to easily ride her bicycle and walk along Orchard as a child.

But by the time she had a son of her own, traffic had become dangerous enough so that she would not allow him to bike there, “because the traffic from where it comes off the Whitney Road … and goes all the way up to (Route) 115, people go so fast,” Tarantino said.

Councilor Mike Edes, a former state trooper, noted that DOT focuses its studies more on residential density than speeding.

Shane, who was absent at Monday’s meeting, stated in his memo that it would be “very difficult” to achieve a speed reduction below 35 and a change anytime soon is unlikely.

“It is now August,” he wrote, adding “our last series for speed reduction requests were sent to the MDOT in January … and I am not hopeful this request will be reviewed in this calendar year.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

The Cumberland Town Council is asking the Maine Department of Transportation to conduct another traffic speed reduction study along Orchard Road, where the speed limit varies from 35 mph to 40 mph.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.