RUMFORD — Selectmen decided to aggressively pursue removing the passing lane of U.S. Route 2 as it ascends Falls Hill, after safety concerns were raised Thursday night.
They asked Town Manager Carlo Puiia to have a Maine Department of Transportation traffic engineer attend the board's next meeting. They want to ask him about the feasibility of reducing the ascent to a single lane.
The board also wants bicycle lanes or breakdown lanes marked on either side of the road, and may also consider reducing the speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph.
However, the state has jurisdiction on anything done to the road.
Prompting concerns are drivers racing up the hill faster than 35 mph, with one in the passing lane trying to get in ahead of the other in the available four-tenths of a mile up the hill before the two lanes converge into one on a sharp curve.
Complicating the hazard is a crosswalk that is tough to see in the bottleneck atop the hill.
Puiia said a bicyclist raised the issue that having two lanes ascending the hill promotes speeding in that 35 mph section.
The bicyclist saw another cyclist pedaling up the hill in a 5- to 6-inch lane between the white line and curbing.
“He said he saw a bicyclist go up the hill and shortly thereafter, he saw two empty chip trucks come around the corner (at the bottom of the hill), and within seconds, one is racing the other to the top of that hill," Puiia said.
Selectman Jolene Lovejoy said having the two lanes several years ago made more sense because tractor-trailer trucks traveled uphill much slower, especially if they had big loads of wood.
Now, those trucks are larger and have more powerful engines, but four-tenths of a mile isn't much distance to require a passing lane, she said.
“What is the race to the top of the hill?” Lovejoy asked. “What in the world is the hurry? That is an extremely dangerous section of road anyway with the turn when you get up to the top, and then it was a worse thing to put a crosswalk up there across that much of a traffic area.”
“You have to run to get across,” said Selectman Brad Adley, who has an auto sales and repair business atop the hill.
Resident Andy Todd, an avid cyclist, said he is also worried.
“Recently, truck traffic, for some reason, is speeding up there, and my understanding is the more wood you can deliver, the more money you're going to make,” Todd said.
He said he's seen instances when a tractor-trailer truck is descending the hill while another is passing a slower truck while ascending the hill, leaving a scary ride for bicyclists trying to ascend or descend.
“I'm surprised there hasn't been a serious accident there yet,” Todd said. “I think what we're just trying to do is make it safer for everybody. For pedestrians at the top of that hill, that crosswalk is a very dangerous area.”
Selectman Jeff Sterling agreed.
“Even if you're going 35 mph up that hill, and you come around that last corner before the unnamed auto repair business and ice cream shop, you have very little time if there's someone in that crosswalk,” Sterling said, ribbing Adley. “I mean they don't know you're coming because they can't see you before you come around that corner, and you don't see them when you come around that corner. There's very little time to react even at 35.
“If we reduce that speed limit to 30 or 25 mph, are most people going to comply with it? Probably not,” Sterling said.