The speed limit on a 22-mile stretch of Interstate 295 between Falmouth and Topsham is now 65 mph beginning Monday morning.

The lower limit, which began Monday morning, comes after the Maine Department of Transportation concluded that speed played a role in a 29 percent increase in crashes on that stretch of road during a two-year span between the year before the state raised the speed limit to 70 mph in 2014 and the year after it had been in effect for a full year. Driver distraction and traffic volume, which increased 6.4 percent in that same time period, also played a role, according to an MDOT analysis.

Message boards have been warning motorists about the upcoming speed reduction for the last two weeks. All permanent speed signs along the Falmouth-Topsham stretch of I-295, which state officials say is the most heavily traveled section of roadway in Maine, will be replaced by the end of the month. The drop in the speed limit took effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The lower speed limit is the first of several planned initiatives to reduce crashes on the Falmouth-Topsham portion of I-295, which runs 53 miles from West Gardiner to Scarborough. MDOT began monitoring I-295 after it noticed an uptick in crashes in 2015. Since then, the Falmouth-Topsham section appears to have been the only area with a corresponding increase in crashes.

Source: Maine DOT
Interactive: Christian MilNeil

An analysis of radar readings found the average high speed was 78-81 mph, 10 mph faster than before the speed limit was raised.

The agency is planning a long-term technical study of the I-295 corridor that will focus on highway interchanges in the Falmouth area, but it will also make more immediate safety improvements that will roll out through 2019, including traffic signals, new lighting and evaluation of new ramps in Yarmouth, Falmouth and South Portland, and two dozen message signs to inform drivers about road conditions and crashes.

The state is also considering expanding medians and turnoffs to help state police enforce speed limits. State police have said that enforcement is not easy during high-traffic times, and that pulling a driver over can create more of a safety problem than it solves.

That Topsham-Falmouth stretch of I-295 is one of the most challenging in the state for troopers because of the high volume of traffic, state officials say.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at:

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