AUBURN — The Maine Department of Transportation has installed a sign with flashing lights to alert northbound drivers to watch for left-turning traffic on Route 4 near Lake Shore Drive.
The change comes after residents, lawmakers, transportation experts and others complained about a spate of crashes there, including an August collision that seriously injured a 5-year-old girl.
"We're happy. It's a first step. I think this is a good start," said Tammie Willoughby, who lives in the area and has helped spearhead a neighborhood effort to get MDOT to make changes.
Residents have long complained that the 55-mph, four-lane stretch of Route 4 from outer Center Street to the Turner town line is dangerous, especially for traffic turning left. Experts say that danger exists in large part because turning drivers must stop in the left lane, which is also the road's passing lane. Drivers risk getting rear-ended as they sit in the left lane waiting for southbound traffic to clear so they can turn.
There have been 55 crashes in the area of Lake Shore Drive since 2003. Of those, three caused incapacitating injuries.
After the crash in August, residents started talking about the road to anyone who would listen, including state Rep. Mike Beaulieu, R-Auburn. He, in turn, asked the MDOT to look at it. The Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center also held a meeting on the issue a couple of weeks ago. About a dozen people showed up, including residents, city officials and a representative from MDOT.
As a temporary solution, MDOT said it would install a sign with flashing lights to alert drivers to turning traffic. On Tuesday it did, putting up a large, yellow sign on the side of the northbound lane, a few hundred yards before Lake Shore Drive. The sign's pair of lights flash only when cars get close to it, an effort to catch drivers' attention.
"I think it gets your notice a little better, so I'm thrilled," said Bethel Shields, who's lived off Lake Shore Drive for 29 years.
A similar sign has been on the side of the road for a while. It warns drivers to watch for stopped vehicles, but that sign has no flashing lights and it was easy for drivers to miss as they sped past.
Residents say the new sign is a good short-term solution.
"I think this is a stop gap, but it's a very welcome stop gap," Shields said. "It's an excellent first step."
Many residents would like the speed limit lowered and a turning lane added to the four-lane road. The MDOT has said it would take a year to complete a road study and get expert recommendations for permanent changes to the road.