The Maine Department of Transportation recently released a report indicating the average traffic volume each day on Interstate 295 has spiked by 12 percent in the last six years.
As reported by the Portland Press-Herald, congestion on the already cramped highway has reached a point at which officials with the Maine State Police say they are encountering difficulties responding to traffic accidents and enforcing the laws of the road on that stretch.
Specifically, Lt. Walter Grzyb told the Press-Herald, cramped, bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic makes it nearly impossible for law enforcement to respond to a crash or to stop violators for speeding or driving recklessly. In fact, when troopers or state police stop a motorist on the side of the road, they may in fact be creating more danger than they are fixing. Police say they can’t do their job safely.
Troopers have reportedly tried to increase their presence on the highway, at least when traffic is at its highest volume, in the hope that visibility will serve as a deterrent to would-be violators. They essentially only take action when it’s critically necessary. Usually, though, police spend most of the rush hour times responding to car accidents.
It doesn’t help that the speed limit on the highway was bumped up in 2014, from 65 mph up to 70 mph. This has been directly linked to an uptick in traffic collisions, according to police, although it’s not believed to be the sole factor.
The chief engineer for the state’s DOT assigned analysts and engineers to start researching crashes along this highway shortly after Columbus Day. This is a time period by which most of the tourist traffic in the state has died down considerably. This research ultimately led to more questions, but one thing it made clear. Crashes were definitely up. The chief engineer said this is due to a host of different factors, but the volume is at full capacity for the road as designed.
In 2008, traffic volume on the highway was at about 1.06 million. Now in 2016, it’s projected to reach 1.24 million. This has also resulted in longer “rush hours.” Longer periods of high-volume traffic have meant there are more crashes spread throughout the day. For example, between 2003 and 2005, the the DOT reported peak crash times at between 8 a.m. and noon and then again for two hours in the evening. But by 2014 to 2016, the peak crash times occurred over a consistent 12-hour period. The overall number of traffic accidents on I-295 is up an astonishing 32 percent just from 2013 to 2015.
All of this has prompted the DOT to plan a long-term study of the highway in an effort to figure out exactly what might be going on. The agency plans to look at:
- Distracted driving
- Collision hot spots
- Traffic volumes
DOT officials say that in the meantime, they are making some efforts to try to improve safety along the highway. Those include shifting road repairs to almost exclusively at night so that lanes don’t need to be shut down during busy commute hours. The agency has also installed cable guard rails along the edges to help vehicles from barreling into oncoming traffic. The agency is also exploring additional signage that would help make drivers aware of any upcoming adverse traffic conditions that might prompt them to take an alternative route.
However, expansion of the road itself would be a last resort. Officials would first try to encourage ride-sharing or alternate routes before initiating construction.
If you are the victim of a Portland car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
With traffic up 12 percent on Interstate 295, state says ‘volume is really pressing capacity’, Dec. 9, 2016, By Kate McCormick, Portland Press Herald
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