Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth legislators hope to reduce speeds on part of I-295

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FALMOUTH — Two state legislators have proposed a bill that would reduce the speed limit on Interstate 295 between Falmouth and Brunswick to 60 mph.

Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, and Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, said they commute northbound to Augusta on I-295 several times a week, and both have watched the traffic worsen and the number of accidents increase on that particular stretch since the speed limit was raised to 70 mph in 2014.

“We’ve become a very popular, livable area, and at the same time, we’ve increased the speed limit to 70,” Millett said Friday.

Pierce described the feeling of “hitting a wall” of traffic when she gets to Brunswick on her drive home. “You really feel it when you drive it north to south,” she said.

Since 2009, the number of cars on that portion of the road has increased by 20 percent, according to the Bangor Daily News.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of accidents has jumped 25 percent, and Pierce said it was difficult not to tie the increase in accidents to the higher speed limit. Just an hour after Pierce was interviewed, two accidents occurred on I-295 in Falmouth within a mile of each other.

“For areas of that road, it’s appropriate (for the speed) to be at 70 mph,” she said, suggesting that’s too fast for an area with several exits and entrances, most of which she and Millett believe don’t have long enough ramps to handle the amount of traffic.

Pierce said the speed limit should be graduated in relation to the amount of traffic and the surrounding areas. Along the areas of I-295 that pass through Portland, the speed limit is 50 mph, and Pierce said the immediate jump to 70 mph at Falmouth is too sudden.

Millett agreed.

“I’m hoping reducing the speed limit will give people a little more space, a little more time for reactions, and avoid some of these incidents that are risking lives and cause such huge delays,” she said.

Millett called the proposed reduction a “relief valve” while the Department of Transportation continues work on a long-term traffic study that agency spokesman Ted Talbot said is part of “an ongoing effort to identity where we can help with accidents due to the increased traffic.”

He said the study is investigating what Millett called the “toxic mix” of factors that have plagued the highly traveled span of road: increased traffic, exit and entrance ramps, speed, weather and distracted driving.

In the meantime, Talbot said the department will rely on short-term fixes like better signage to alleviate congestion and reduce accidents.

He declined to comment directly on the bill because he had not yet seen it. The next legislative session begins on Wednesday, Jan. 4.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100, of cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

A proposed bill would reduce the speed limit on Interstate 295 between Falmouth and Brunswick from 70 to 60 mph.

Traffic clogs Bucknam Road in Falmouth after a pair of accidents Friday, Dec. 23, on Interstate 295 near Exit 10.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.