Traffic on Route 4, top and bottom, flows through its intersection with Route 117, left and right, in Turner. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

TURNER — The Maine Department of Transportation is moving forward with its design for a traffic signal at the intersection of routes 4 and 117, according to communications exchanged in late August between state project managers and the town manager.

The new design is different from the one project managers presented at a virtual public meeting in June and is apparently at odds with concerns town officials and some residents expressed about putting a signal at that location.

“The updated information came back warranting a traffic signal for this intersection. We are moving forward with that design,” Rhobe Moulton, a senior project manager with the state highway program, said in an email sent to an MDOT traffic engineer Aug. 26, who then forwarded the information to Turner Town Manager Kurt Schaub.

Schaub said Friday morning that a traffic signal has been considered in the past but was ultimately dismissed out of concern that it would create additional hazards, rather than improve them.

The 2006 comprehensive plan advocated for adding an overpass at that intersection but not a traffic signal. The most recent comprehensive plan dismissed the idea of an overpass and instead advocated working with the state to make safety improvements at high-crash locations in Turner and to reroute traffic away from these intersections, he said.

“Granted, the most recent plan is not approved by the residents, but I can report that the idea of a traffic signal at this intersection was almost universally considered among the least desirable of possible safety enhancements,” Schaub said in an email.

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One of the primary concerns is that tractor-trailers or trucks carrying heavy loads traveling southbound on Route 4, which has a maximum downward slope of 7%, would be unable to come to a complete stop at a red light, especially in inclement weather.

For vehicles with heavy loads traveling northbound on Route 4, Schaub said the concern is that they would be unable to get up the hill from a complete stop.

Adding a signal there would also make it only the second one in town and less than a half-mile from the first — at the intersection of Auburn Road and Snell Hill Road/Main Street by Hannaford — which Schaub said can get backed up with traffic during the morning and evening rush hours.

The “vast majority” of crashes at the intersection are of northbound vehicles on Route 4 colliding broadside with vehicles traveling east and westbound on Route 117, project manager Brandon Havu, an engineer with HNTB Corp., said at the June meeting.

The speed limit on Route 4 is 45 mph. The Route 117 speed limit is 25 mph heading eastbound and 30 mph heading westbound.

The design Havu presented then would have widened the lanes on Route 4 and added concrete islands on the north and southbound approaches to create a separate right turn lane.

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The updated plan would instead have a separate left turn lane and turn signal for vehicles traveling either direction on Route 4. There would also be flashing warning signs to warn drivers traveling southbound on Route 4 that the signal is red or about to turn red, according to Moulton. The signal would also be programmed to coordinate with the one by Hannaford.

Moulton on Friday morning shared the internal emails with the updated design information and the comments in response to the previous design submitted during the June virtual forum.

“This plan, in my opinion, is good — as far as it goes — but I do not believe it has gone far enough. The data shows that, in almost every crash, the cause was failure to yield,” one person wrote. “It is not clear to me how this particular plan will solve the problem … I feel it imperative a full stoplight be added, not just the blinking red/yellow that currently exists.”

Another person wrote, “The problem with this intersection is not right turning lanes, it’s left turning and crossing the intersection from one side to the other. Traffic moves so quickly and sporadically spaced, a car has to dart out into the intersection itself to turn left or cross.”

Another person, also advocating for a traffic signal, said the “most important” safety improvement would be increased law enforcement presence in that area as “there seems to be general disregard for traffic laws.”

“At least once a week, at that light (by Hannaford), a vehicle — car, truck, semi — passes under the light after the green light has appeared on the Snell Hill side, clearly with no intent to slow/stop when they see a yellow light. A vehicle, relying solely on the green light to safely proceed, will be struck,” the person wrote.

Only nine people submitted their comments to the June public forum.

“As a result of comments received from this public meeting, we are reviewing the information and turning movements to see if a traffic signal is warranted in this location,” Moulton wrote June 23 on the public forum.

Another virtual public meeting will be held at an as-yet-undetermined date, Moulton said. The project schedule remains on track with bid advertising beginning in early summer 2023.


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