Transportation agency plans turning lane, roundabouts for Route 4 in Auburn

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AUBURN — Route 4 will get a turning lane at Lake Shore Drive.

File photo

A sign posted last year on Route 4 in Auburn flashes yellow to alert motorists to traffic turning left onto Lake Shore Drive.

And, possibly, a pair of roundabouts.

The Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center, which is housed and staffed by the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments and is responsible for planning for that stretch of Route 4, voted Thursday to spend $500,000 to add a turning lane from Lake Shore Drive to about Roy's All-Steak Hamburgers and Golf Center, across from Blanchard Road.

Officials say the road is about 70 feet wide, enough to add a turning lane while keeping four traffic lanes and 6-foot shoulders.

Construction could start and end this fall.

"It was well-vetted between residents, the city, DOT engineers," Auburn City Manager Clinton Deschene said. "Everybody's had good chances to look at this, and it seems to be the most cost-effective, quickly implementable solution. I'd like to see the final plans — we don't have those yet — but the concept is spot-on."

The Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center also agreed to spend $300,000 on preliminary engineering and design work for a pair of Route 4 roundabouts. The first would be in the area of Fair and Martin streets, near the boat launch. The second would be in the area of Lake Shore Drive.

If that project moves forward, the speed limit on that stretch of road would be lowered.

It will likely take a year to finish the design work on the roundabouts. Officials would then have to find about $4 million — $2 million each — to pay for construction.

Officials say the turning lane is a short-term solution to the problems on Route 4. The roundabouts would be the long-term solution.

"(The turning lane) is going to go a long way to address the safety of the worst section of it," said Jennifer Williams, transportation director for the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments. "The future roundabouts will help a lot with some of the other problem areas."

Funding for the turning lane and the preliminary roundabout work will come 80 percent from the federal government, 10 percent from the state and 10 percent from Auburn.

Residents have long complained that the 55-mph, four-lane stretch of Route 4 from outer Center Street in Auburn 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 waiting for southbound traffic to clear so they can turn.

There were 55 crashes in the area of Lake Shore Drive between 2003 and 2012. Of those, three caused incapacitating injuries.

Last August, a 5-year-old girl was seriously injured when the car she was riding in was rear-ended as it waited to turn left onto Lake Shore Drive. The crash brought new attention to the dangers of that road and residents began talking about it to anyone who would listen, including lawmakers, the ATRC and the Maine Department of Transportation.

Small changes, including an MDOT-installed sign with flashing lights, have since been made. But the changes planned by ATRC are by far the most significant.

"I am thankful and just extremely grateful that they fast-tracked this and made this of high importance and are looking to make Route 4 safer," said Tammie Willoughby, who must turn onto Lake Shore Drive every day to go home.

She has been serving as a kind of neighborhood representative at meetings about the road for the past year. She was pleased by ATRC's decision Thursday, and believes a turning lane will immediately help.

"It'll get us out of the left-hand lane, stopped in a passing lane trying to turn left," she said.

Although the proposal for roundabouts may surprise some, Deschene said road studies have recommended them in the past. He and others say traffic lights and narrowing of the road — ideas often raised by residents — could create more problems than they would solve, while roundabouts would encourage drivers to slow down and be more cautious.

"The roundabouts will become, and this is my layperson's perspective, good signals as people come into the city that you're no longer on a commuter-highway-type mindset, but you're about to enter a more urbanized downtown area," Deschene said. "It also won't happen with the aggravation of making you stop."

However, some drivers may have to be convinced that roundabouts are a good idea.

"I don't know that's going to work on a highway like that," said Harry Walker, who was severely injured in December 2011 when his Jeep was rear-ended as he tried to turn onto Lake Shore Drive to go home.

Although he reserved judgment on the proposed roundabouts, Walker lauded the plan for a turning lane.

"I think it's about time they did it," he said.

Officials next will finalize a design plan for the turning-lane changes. There will likely be an informational and public comment session on it in the coming months.

Although the turning lane could be finished this fall, it won't come soon enough for Amy Liberman, whose daughter, Danika DeMayo, was the 5-year-old severely injured last August.

Danika, now 6, is still dealing with the after-effects of the crash, including long-term memory problems.

"Even if they change (the road), I will never drive up there again," Liberman said.

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 's picture

4 lanes needed to Turner

4 lanes are needed from Auburn to Turner, a turning lane would be a good idea. Please post signs that state ' left lane is for passing only', as it should be. Often people drive in the left lane making it difficult to pass, in other states you are pulled over and fined if you ride in that lane.

 's picture

Roundabouts DO work...

But people around here don't seem to understand how to use them.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Where are they going to put

Where are they going to put the Round-A-Bout? In front of Roy's All Steak Hamburger Stand.? Ever try getting in there at 5 PM on a Friday facing southbound traffic and seeing northbound traffic in your rear view mirror approaching you at 55-60 mph, and still in your lane? Scary, eh?

ERNEST LABBE's picture

There is already

There is already a very large roundabout in Auburn. Yeah you know the rotary at Washiington st and Minot ave. It works good unless you are inbound on Minot ave. People don't know how to merge there. Traffic is always stopped where Minot ave joins into the rotary. Why because drivers going to Washington south get in the right lane when they approach the rotary, drivers wanting to go intown get in the left lane. The result traffic is stopped on Minot entering the rotary. Minot ave is no where near as busy as Turner road. The situation created by the roundabout will be disasterous on both ends resulting in many more crashes.

Lowering the speed limit and a turning lane along with single lane traffic would be much more effective. Another solution would be a traffic light at the intersection with a jughandle for left hand turns.A jughandle is a road off to the right that brings you back to the main highway so that you cross straight across the main highway with the assistance of a stop light instead of sitting trying to go left. The light could be set up so that the main road traffic has a long green cycle and a short green cycle for the cross traffic.

Roger Moulton's picture

At least local radio stations

will be able to have a traffic report in the will always say, traffics is backed up ___ miles at Lake Auburn. Also the silver spoons from Lake Shore Dr will feel much safer (and most will take the back way and enter that road from the other side to avoid the traffic jam). Lets just put a guardrail across where Lake Shore Dr meets Rt4 and anyone that wants to use that road can enter from the other side. The added bonus to that would be that they get to go to there next class reunion and tell everyone that they live on a dead end on the lake.

 's picture

I think the turning lane is a

I think the turning lane is a good idea but for the life of me I can't see where those hated round-a-bouts are a good idea. The ones they have in Auburn are way to small , confusing and hard to navigate. I would hope that sane minds would prevail and they would wait to see how the turning lane works out.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

They almost got it............

Yes, put the turning lane in, connect it to the existing turning lane in Turner, as well as safety for turning vehicles, it will also provide an extra access lane for emergency vehicles in the event of a major incident.
Speaking of major incidents, NO ROUND A BOUTS, No, Nada, should never happen, Even at slow speeds, many, and I mean many, people can not handle them safely. Traffic circles are just that, what ever you call them, they have been tried in many States, and I've never ever seen good results.
If they are to be used to slow down traffic, they may work on roads like Sabbattus St. or College St. On Rt 4, you have heavy truck traffic, trucks and traffic circles equal squashed four wheelers. You can hope people are careful, you can preach safety, but there will still be that one driver who forgets what a truck can do to a car. I've seen trucks with 53' trailers on those stupid half circles on Turner St. If they are very lucky and no one is going to crowd them they may make it around, most of the time, the traffic island in the middle becomes the roadway, and destroys the tires of loaded trucks, not a very good incentive to welcome trucks to Auburn.
Using rotary's as a traffic control devise, is like using a fire truck as a smoke detector. it's what actually slows the traffic down that creates the danger. I can remember the harrowing days and nights traversing the "Rotaries" heading out Rt. 3 in Augusta. You ask any truck driver about the trip from Augusta to Belfast, and you will no doubt hear a tail of the two rotaries.
I will say this again, NO WAY will traffic circles work on Rt.4 for traffic control, there are way to many trucks and trucks create great potential for disaster at traffic circles. There I think I've said it enough........................

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Roundabouts work

He have a similar approach like Lake Shore Drive and there has been 18 people killed in 15 years. We lost a good Veteran friend there. Since the roundabout was instituted a year ago all drivers have to slow and yield, giving drivers a better approach to safety. There hasn't been any accidents or fatalities, it has resolved accidents and deaths. It eliminates having to use traffic lights to hold and stop drivers.

If it saves lives you have a perfect resolve.

 's picture

where was that one placed,

where was that one placed, Jerry? That Lake Shore Drive area of Rt 4 is a scary place to drive.

MICHAEL FOX's picture

Reduce the lanes

In the heavily congested area from Lake Shore Drive to Turner street should be reduced to one lane in each direction. Install turning lanes where needed and install a median between the two lanes as a divider. Possibly even a low guard rail. Anything like these will work. Just reducing the lanes and making a center turn worked on outer Lisbon Street in Lewiston.



turning lane good, roundabout disastrous!!! whose the winner that thought that one up?

Rich Tremblay's picture

Good intentions....

I agree that something needs to be done, but a turning lane seems to cause more accidents,even in a lower speed limit zone like lower Center st.. The stretch of Rte 4 by the lake is not where most fatalities occur( 1 fatality since 2002) the others occured further north of the lake area. The imidiate actions to take is to lower the speed limit and have a MAJOR law enforcement presence.....they are out there responding to crashes everyday anyway.Finally,start enforcing and issuing citations for distracted driving!!! Since the law was enacted I have not seen anyone in the 8th District court files cited for this infraction. I see people texting while they are driving every day!!! Very scary.


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