The Universal Notebook: Farewell, Route 1, Yarmouth

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Last week Carolyn and I sold our home of 32 years and moved on.

I will miss a great deal about fair Yarmouth – the terrific library, the excellent schools, the outstanding dump, the great public employees, the lovely parks, Royal River Books, Pat’s Pizza, Bruce’s Burritos, Andy’s Handy Store, Rosemont Market, two fine hardware stores and all of our friends and neighbors.

What I will not miss at all about Yarmouth, however, is U.S. Route 1.

There is something about the way that Route 1 and Interstate 295 slice through Yarmouth that is very disorienting. I lived in town for three or four years before I realized that by driving all the way to the dump (sorry, transfer station) on Main Street, I was actually going way out of my way and should have been taking the more direct route along Route 1.

But in recent years it has been the complete irrationality of Route 1 as it passes through Yarmouth that has confounded me. In solidarity with those condemned to live with the daily design flaws of Route 1, my final public service as a Yarmouthite will be to explain what’s wrong with the main drag.

And believe me, it is a drag.

Let’s start at the south end of town, where the new I-295 off-ramps have cars coming off the interstate unsure when or whether to yield, merge or barrel on ahead. Most barrel on ahead, racing fellow motorists to where the lanes suddenly narrow. Motorists who simply want to change directions find they must dash straight across Route 1 from the off-ramp to on-ramp.

And, oh yes, the on-ramp. Headed south at the same interchange, a measurable percentage of the cars trying to enter the highway end up in the park-and-ride lot owing to the odd configuration.

Where Portland Street crosses Route 1 at Maine Roasters Coffee and the Mobil station, the intersection is so wide and the angles so acute that motorists have a heck of a time trying to figure out when they can turn left. Half the time, they just hold their breaths and hope the car coming the other way will turn at the same time. It’s a daily auto ballet of near misses.

Where Route 1 passes over Main Street, the off-ramp has turned a single-family home and Gathers Restaurant into a glorified traffic island. Cars entering Route 1 North along York Street experience the unusual traffic solution of merging without a yield sign. Traffic engineers seem to believe that a solid white line will keep motorists from sideswiping each other. But beware the out-of-town driver who fails to realize there is no stop sign or yield sign and does stop (as seems reasonable) before entering Route 1. The Main Street on-ramp is a rear-ender waiting to happen.

Next comes the crisscross maneuver needed to get in the correct lane as you cross the Royal River and prepare for the first left into the post office or the next left into Hannaford. And woe to those who would travel on north past Hannaford. Just about at Pat’s Pizza there is often a frantic bit of jockeying as unwary drivers suddenly discover that the left lane requires them to turn left. And if they do navigate this obstacle successfully, there is the death-defying narrowing to one lane as Route 1 passes beneath I-295.

If you simply stay in the lane you are in, you are almost certain to have an impatient driver try to pass you at the last minute, honking madly as you simply obey the highway designer’s confused directions.

The worst hazards on Route 1, however, are those encountered exiting I-295 headed south. The right-hand travel lane suddenly becomes a right-turn lane, requiring an abrupt lane switch as you approach the West Main Street overpass. A crazy quilt of solid, broken and curving lines and an arc of orange traffic cones attempt to sort out turning traffic, through traffic and bicyclists (of which there are few, for very good reasons), but the end result is often frantic braking, angry honking, curses and squealing tires.

If there is a more poorly designed stretch of Route 1 between Fort Kent and Key West (and I have been to both poles), I have yet to find it. Come to think of it, Route 1 is also a mess where it passes through Brunswick along the Androscoggin River. The traffic tie-ups there are legendary.

And did I mention we just moved to Brunswick?

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick.The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.