Rumford board wants state to reduce U.S. Route 2 ascent of Falls Hill to single lane

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Avid bicyclist Andy Todd of Rumford tells Rumford selectmen Thursday night that something must be done to protect cyclists on Falls Hill from speeding tractor-trailer trucks.

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.

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Edward Bulger's picture

The crosswalk and sidewalk

Finding a fix sometimes means you should think outside the box. From the Morse bridge all the way to the top of Falls Hill, foot traffic is pushed to the river side of the road. The side where the only sidewalk is. Most foot and bicycle traffic going up the hill is going to the Virginia section of town. There is no sidewalk on that side of the road and there should be. I've seen many times, people walking to the store opposite the Information parking area, on the side of the road instead of using the sidewalk. Build a sidewalk. Make it safe and have proper drainage. It would cost more then shutting down the passing lane, but if that cost saved just one life, it would be worth every penny.While we're at it , put a crosswalk from the information parking lot to the store. At least people would have a better chance crossing the road there. The crosswalk at the top of the hill is dangerous a sidewalk going down the hill with a bicycle lane could be the answer.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Someone needs a physics lesson

Lower the speed limit to twenty five, reduce it to one lane. That cross walk, if its the same one I'm thinking about, needs to go anyway. Loaded trucks and hills don't mix. All the studies in the world won't change that. Many years ago probably before most of these bicyclists were born, that hill was one lane. As were a hundred other hills in Maine.
What happened on these hills, loaded trucks would get bogged down to ten to fifteen miles per hour. There's no getting around it. Traffic would build up behind the trucks, yes there would be several in a row. Than as sure as the sun comes up in the morning someone couldn't wait. Twice I have watched a car pull out in frustration and haul ass up the hill to get by the trucks. Both times they didn't make it. Has anyone watched a head on collision in the making and there isn't anything you can do but watch. Fortunately in both instances no one was killed, but everyone was pretty badly hurt. That's not counting the hundreds that made it.
They had the exact same types of meetings, Selectman needed to do something to quell the public outrage. They had DOT and Highway department studies. They also assigned selectman to decide on matters they have absolutely no knowledge of. Late at night, I would hit that particular hill at about fifty to fifty five at the bottom so I could be going fifteen to twenty at the top, and hopefully avoid company in the back seat if you know what I mean.
Well all those studies and selectman meetings all over the state resulted in a solution that has proven to save lives and reduce blood pressure in truck drivers. They added passing lanes. It has proven to reduce accidents everywhere, If you decide to take out that particular passing lane, just stack the body bags right at the crown if the hill, your going to need them. High speed head on collisions can get pretty messy.


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