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Transportation officials say $1M 'diamond' will be drivers' best friend in Freeport

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Transportation officials say $1M 'diamond' will be drivers' best friend in Freeport

FREEPORT — State transportation officials are proposing a new and unusual traffic pattern as a solution to congestion at the Desert Road interchange on Interstate 295.

The Maine Department of Transportation is proposing a $1 million project that would redirect traffic across the I-295 overpass by weaving lanes in figure eights and installing traffic lights where they intersect.

The design concept is known as a diverging diamond interchange. It is used in several Midwest and Mid-Atlantic cities to increase efficiency and reduce congestion, MDOT engineer Steve Landry said.

The proposal would allow drivers using I-295 Exit 20 to make a direct left turn onto the Desert Road overpass without waiting at a stop sign or crossing a lane of traffic. Vehicles will drive on the bridge with the east- and west-bound directions flip-flopped, before switching back after they cross the bridge.

Other proposals to reduce congestion at the interchange involved widening the bridge to add extra lanes and installing roundabouts. Both were deemed too expensive, Landry said.

Town engineer Albert Presgraves said a roundabout could only be installed on the west side of the overpass, due to lack of space on the east side, and the figure-eight design is less expensive.

"At first encountering the thing, it sounds so unusual," Presgraves said. "Fundamentally, the reason it's being considered is that it is the least expensive way to increase capacity at the interstate exit."

The proposal is estimated to provide adequate capacity through 2032, based on growth projections from MDOT, he said.

Some residents, however, say the project is unnecessary and too expensive.

"Where is this congestion?" Somerset Street resident Chalmers Hardenbergh said. "I drive this intersection almost every day, and although there is a little congestion sometimes, it's not worth spending a million dollars. ... If we're spending money let's spend it on something we need."

The money should be spent on needed road repairs, not new construction, said Hardenbergh, who started an online petition opposing the proposed interchange at signon.org/sign/to-mdot-re-desert-road.

Although the town has had no formal discussions about funding for the project, Presgraves said the proposed funding structure would be 50 percent from MDOT, and two 25-percent shares from the town and L.L. Bean. 

Carolyn Beem, public affairs manager at L.L. Bean, said the company is interested in improving congestion at the interchange for its Desert Road distribution center and for its employees.

"We want it to be less congested for everybody," she said. "Yes, it's employees and it's the warehouse, but it benefits everybody."

MDOT officials have scheduled a meeting with residents at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 30, at the Freeport Community Center, 53 Depot St.

For more information about the proposal go to maine.gov/mdot/freeportddi.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.