Gambling on safety in Oxford

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On July 3, in the middle of what was a sunny afternoon, a kind-looking elderly lady dressed all in pink crossed Route 26 from the Hampton Inn to the Oxford Casino.

She was navigating what looked like an E-Wheels Pretty in Pink 3-wheel electric mobility scooter, and had barely zipped across the four-lane road before a car zoomed past her.

It was one of those “she’s lucky to be alive” scenes.

On Tuesday night, just before 11 p.m., Rhode Island residents Daniel Mercado and Ronald Nobrega were not so lucky.

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The two men were struck and killed as they were crossing from the casino side back to the hotel.

The crossing — for anyone who hasn’t seen it — is marked only by flashing yellow lights.

There is no crosswalk.

There is no warning for cars approaching the site that pedestrians might be crossing.

There is no overhead lighting.

At the time of night they were struck, Mercado and Nobrega were crossing the road — posted for 50 mph — in the utter dark.

According to one witness, they had already started to cross when a truck appeared in the northbound lane, so they started running. But, it was too late. Police said the driver did not see the men until they were right in front of her and there was no opportunity to avoid colliding.

The opportunity to protect Mercado and Nobrega passed when the crossing was designed in 2013, when those studying the traffic pattern decided a marked, lit pedestrian crossing was unnecessary based on vehicle volume.

It absolutely is necessary.

And, now that that is so abundantly obvious, it must be fixed immediately.

According to Maine Department of Transportation, when the posted speed limit is 50 mph or more, painted crosswalks are not allowed by state law. So, while traffic engineers initially considered that, the law blocked the idea.

So, let’s get this straight: At the site of the accident, where the hotel owner, casino owner, public officials and drivers galore recognize that people will be crossing the street, it’s OK to allow them to cross. But not OK to paint a crosswalk for them to do so with some measure of safety?

This is particularly hard to believe because Hampton sited across the street specifically to take advantage of casino clientele, so the owner expected people to cross. The hotel does provide shuttle service until 9 p.m. on weekdays, but does not require its use.

So, every day people leave the safety of the hotel and walk or scooter across the road.

Road is too soft a word. Route 26 is a highway through Oxford.

The permit for the driveway/entrance to Hampton was approved in 2013 and required turn lanes and traffic signals for vehicles. The signals were set up as blinking yellow, but under the permit there was a point at which the lights were to become “fully functional,” which means they would turn green, red and yellow to control traffic — and allow crossing.

And, once the lights were fully functional, there was also a requirement for a crosswalk with countdown pedestrian signals to be installed on the north side.

The point when these safety measures would have kicked in is when the traffic rose above the baseline 773 vehicle trips during peek evening hours throughout the properties — the casino and the hotel.

And, since 2013, MDOT has been monitoring traffic volume.

As of Wednesday — the day after the accident — the study never indicated higher traffic and so the signals never moved off the blinking yellow settings. And, Mercado and Nobrega are dead.

Permit requirements aside, the town of Oxford can request MDOT perform a safety audit if it has concerns, and if they have not already done so we urge selectmen to do that at the first opportunity.

According to an MDOT spokesman, once that request is made, “we’ll send some people out there to look at traffic and see if there are ways to make the area more safe.”

There are, and they’re already outlined in the permit.

So, rather than continue to study traffic, let’s study this: The more important number here isn’t 773 cars. It’s two.

Two people.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

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