Randy Illian, regional traffic coordinator for the Maine Department of Transportation, fields questions from residents of the Gurnet Strait area during a meeting at the Town Office on Tuesday, Oct. 3. The focus of the meeting was how to curb speeding in the area. (Sam Lemonick photo)
Town, county and state officials heard from frustrated Harpswell residents about speeding and unsafe driving on Route 24 near the Gurnet Strait bridge in a meeting at the Town Office on Tuesday, Oct. 3.
Speaking for the 10 residents present, Brad Standley shared some of the same issues the residents told the Anchor about in June: drivers exceeding the 35 mph limit, frequent accidents, and dangers to pedestrians.
Randy Illian, regional traffic coordinator for the Maine Department of Transportation, told the meeting that data from the town’s radar speed sign and cellphone data shows the median speed in the area is between 41 and 43 mph.
But while everyone in the room seemed to agree about the problems, there was little consensus about solutions. Many of the residents want new speed limit signs for northbound drivers and seemed to favor the “gateway” treatment, which includes signs on both sides of the road. Deputy Town Administrator Terri Gaudet said gateway signs have appeared to be effective in Harpswell Center.
Illian cautioned that in his experience, new speed limit signs or even lowering the speed limits themselves have little impact on driver behavior. This started an extended and sometimes tense discussion — at one point, a resident accused Illian of not listening to them.
Alane Downes brought up installing new pedestrian signs, which the residents were expecting based on conversations in July between Illian and town officials, but Illian told the meeting he wanted to settle the speed limit signs first. Illian said he was willing to add gateway signs but would like the residents’ endorsement before installing them.
Some residents want to see the 35 mph zone extended further south, possibly beyond the intersection with Cundy’s Harbor Road. Doing so, Illian said, would require a speed study, which must be requested by the town and can take up to a year to complete. Ultimately Illian asked the residents to decide whether they want gateway signs now in the current location or prefer to wait for a speed study. He asked them to communicate their decision to him through Gaudet.
Residents also complained about a lack of law enforcement in the area. Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Andrew Feeney said his office has not gotten many complaints along that stretch. He said more calls to his office would help get more patrols.
Other ideas, like narrowing the lanes or installing barricades to protect pedestrians, might actually make the area less safe, according to the DOT’s Stephen Cole, because of the number of trucks and other wide vehicles and the narrow right of way. “It’s a Colonial-era road trying to operate in the 21st century,” Cole said.
One resident asked about installing cameras that could identify or even ticket speeders, but such cameras are illegal in Maine.
As for the road north of the bridge, Illian said new signs or speed limits there were beyond his authority. He suggested Harpswell and Brunswick officials work together to coordinate changes.
Sam Lemonick is a freelance reporter. He lives in Cundy’s Harbor.