Turnpike cuts median crossovers


PORTLAND (AP) – Maine Turnpike officials have been reducing the number of service vehicle crossover lanes in an effort to reduce the dangers caused by drivers making illegal U-turns on the highway.

The Maine Turnpike Authority sine 2000 has closed 23 crossover openings and replaced them with 11 others, for a net loss of 12, said turnpike spokesman Dan Paradee. Six of the crossovers are open only during the winter months for snowplows.

“We’re definitely making an effort to close those not absolutely essential,” Paradee said. “We want to take away the temptation for people to use them for a place to make illegal U-turns.”

The turnpike plans to close additional crossover lanes in the next few years as the authority upgrades guardrails and repaves sections of the highway, Paradee said.

The problem of illegal U-turns on busy, fast-moving highways has drawn public attention in recent weeks with a couple of accidents caused by drivers who couldn’t wait until the next highway exit to change direction.

On Dec. 7, a driver who crossed from the northbound to the southbound lanes of Interstate 295 in Falmouth caused a multivehicle accident that sent five people to the hospital and delayed traffic for hours. Police have identified the driver as Victoria Miele of Falmouth, but no charges have been filed.

Last week, an unidentified driver on the Maine Turnpike caused an accident by illegally using the service vehicle opening to change from the southbound to the northbound lanes in Falmouth.

Jennifer Carlson said she was headed to work on the turnpike when a car in the breakdown lane abruptly darted in front of her and made a U-turn. Carlson’s car fishtailed, crashed into the guardrail and left her in the frightening position of facing oncoming traffic.

Carlson’s car was totaled, and the other driver didn’t stop.

There aren’t any statistics on how many accidents result from people illegally using the restricted-access crossovers, but officials say the problem appears to be getting worse.

With heavier volumes of traffic traveling at high speeds, illegal U-turns are more dangerous than ever. And more people seem to be taking the risk, Paradee said.

“It’s that whole aggressive driving problem we seem to have today that we didn’t have 10 or 20 years ago as much,” he said. “People seem to be in a greater hurry and are willing to take risks like that.”

Many states have eliminated most highway crossovers, said Jennifer Gavin of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials. But states in the Northeast have been reluctant to do so because the openings are important for snowplows that clear the roads in winter, she said.

Snowplow access is one reason why the Maine Department of Transportation hasn’t followed the turnpike’s lead in reducing the number of crossovers, department spokesman Herb Thomson said

The crossovers also are important for public safety vehicles reversing direction when there is a long distance to the next exit, he said. The state also uses them to store equipment, such as mowers, used to maintain the median and the sides of the highway.

State police troopers conduct enforcement from the median crossovers, which allows them to catch speeders in either direction. When driving, they rely on crossovers to catch up to offenders going in the other direction.

Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-01-15-07 1046EST