So far this summer, several cars have crashed at the intersection of Route 202 and Main Street in Winthrop, despite the recent completion of a state-funded construction project that aimed to make the historically dangerous intersection safer.

Those crashes, as well as the confusion that has accompanied the new traffic pattern, have caused some Winthrop residents to become frustrated with the change.

“I don’t know who planned that,” said Laurie Tompkins, who owns a secondhand-clothing store on Main Street and now tries to avoid driving there. “It’s horrendous. It really is a scary intersection. … I hear the sirens go up Main Street, and all I’m thinking of is, ‘Someone has gotten into an accident on the intersection.’ “

But Maine Department of Transportation officials say crashes aren’t unusual after a new traffic pattern has been developed, and that it could take some time for drivers to get used to the new design.

They say they will continue to study the intersection and make necessary improvements, such as adding new signs or painting new traffic lines, but they also encourage drivers to be careful when navigating the changed pattern.

“I think people need to recognize that this has been a trouble spot, and approach it with caution,” said Ted Talbot, the MDOT spokesman. “We’ll do all we can to continue to modify it as need be, but we can only make the road as safe as we can. There is shared responsibility between what we can do with the traffic pattern, and drivers who need to take responsibility.”

Officials made those changes to address a historically high rate of crashes in the intersection. In the decade before the new pattern was built, 65 crashes were reported in that intersection, or about seven per year, according to state data.

Since the new intersection was completed earlier this summer, four crashes already have been reported, according to the same data. Three passenger cars, three pickup trucks, one sport utility vehicle and one large truck all have been tied up in the recent crashes, which occurred on weekdays during daylight hours.

According to Dan Cook, interim Winthrop police chief, all those accidents have involved drivers who were turning across the westbound lane of Route 202, either because they were heading onto Main Street to go toward downtown, or onto Route 202’s eastbound lanes to go toward Augusta.

In each case, Cook said, those turning cars failed to yield to other vehicles heading west. None of the recent crashes resulted in serious injuries, and no one was charged as a result of them, Cook added.

The purpose of the redesign was to eliminate confusion for drivers who have to turn across westbound Route 202, said Stephen Landry, the state traffic engineer at the MDOT.

In the old pattern, the two eastbound lanes of Route 202 were thruways, so anyone turning off Main Street would have to wait for a break in westbound traffic, then cross into a traffic island, then wait for another break in eastbound traffic that would allow them to merge and get up to speed.

Those turning off eastbound Route 202 lanes would enter a different part of the traffic island, then wait for a break on westbound Route 202 to enter Main Street.

In the new pattern, the islands have been eliminated and replaced with a separate turning lane on eastbound Route 202, which almost acts like an on- and off-ramp, and a stop sign has been added for drivers turning onto Main Street. The effect is almost that of a two-way stop sign, but with traffic never stopping on westbound Route 202.

Landry said officials will continue to monitor the intersection and consider any changes that might improve it. He referred to yellow signs that have been posted recently below some of the stop signs that indicate “Traffic Does Not Stop” on westbound Route 202.

But on Facebook, many residents have said the new stop signs are having an opposite effect.

Tompkins, who posted notices earlier this week about one of the accidents there, said drivers aren’t sure who has the right of way when two vehicles are stopped at the signs on Main Street and eastbound Route 202, and that the confusion can make it harder for drivers to notice oncoming traffic in westbound Route 202.

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

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