GORHAM – Construction of Gorham’s fifth roundabout is expected to get under way in July in a project aimed at improving safety at what is considered one of the state’s most dangerous intersections.

The state is footing the estimated $1.5 million bill for the roundabout, to be built at the intersection of New Portland Road with Libby Avenue and Brackett Road in Gorham. Bids from contractors are due by Wednesday, June 1.

Some in town, however, argue that the project is too expensive and unnecessary.

“I think it’s a waste of state taxpayer money,” Jim Means, a Gorham resident, said this week, adding that a red light would be a cheaper and effective remedy.

“None of the neighbors I know about are in favor of it,” said Joe Wyman, owner of Wyman’s Auto Body, located at the intersection. “I’ve got to relocate my entrance, which I’m not too happy about.”

State transportation officials say a roundabout is the best solution to improve safety at the intersection.

It has five times the number of accidents as other similar four-way intersections, Mark Latti, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, said this week.

“It’s a high-crash location,” Latti said.

An accident at the intersection claimed the life of a Gorham woman in 2008.

A traffic signal at the intersection now blinks yellow on New Portland Road and blinks red on both Brackett Road and Libby Avenue, where elevated stop signs also have been posted warning drivers to stop. The approach to the intersection on New Portland Road was redesigned and constructed several years ago.

Changes haven’t eliminated crashes. Debris from previous incidents was strewn at the intersection this week.

The three roads are arteries heavily utilized by commuters. Craig Gilbert of Westbrook said Tuesday he travels through that intersection, known for traffic backups, but he avoids it during high-use times.

“It’s never a problem after rush hour,” Gilbert said.

Matt Pinkham, who grew up in Westbrook but is now a Biddeford resident, was bicycling through the intersection in mid-morning Tuesday. Pinkham, who said he has witnessed two accidents at the intersection in 18 months, normally drives to work using Brackett Road and Libby Avenue.

“It’s not a very safe intersection,” Pinkham said.

Advocates for a red light say it would be an alternative, improving safety without the expense of building a roundabout.

Latti, however, said a signalized intersection would not be as safe as a roundabout. He said a roundabout would keep traffic moving more efficiently while a traffic light would adversely impact neighborhood driveways.

“A light wouldn’t be the best solution there,” Latti said.

At a Maine Department of Transportation public meeting about the intersection last fall in Gorham, a state consulting engineer estimated the cost of installing a red light at the intersection as $250,000.

But now, the state says a red light at the intersection would require building turning lanes at the intersection, allowing traffic to flow more smoothly. Adding a traffic signal would cost more than $1 million, Latti said.

Last fall, Maine transportations officials pegged the roundabout construction cost at $1.7 million, up from a $1.2 million projection in 2009.

Means, a retired commercial investor and developer with experience in 35 states, questioned the state’s estimated cost for a red light. Means said the average cost for a red light in Arizona runs between $80,000 and $100,000.

“We’re one of the highest taxed states,” said Means, who lives a few miles from the intersection. “We waste money.”

Gorham has roundabouts at intersections of routes 114, 202 and 25 with the Bernard P. Rines Highway, which is a southerly bypass of Gorham Village. Another roundabout is in Little Falls, where routes 202 and 237 intersect.

Latti said construction of the latest roundabout in Gorham is expected to be completed during the current construction season.

From Gorham Village, New Portland Road leads into Westbrook, where it becomes New Gorham Road and intersects with William Clark Drive. The four-lane arterial in Westbrook is under reconstruction and that $5.5 million project could run into October.

The combined, simultaneous construction projects would likely create additional headaches for rush-hour motorists.

Wyman believes the roundabout construction would hurt.

“It’s going to effect business because of disruption,” he said.

This truck waits Tuesday at a stop sign on Libby Avenue in Gorham before pulling into the intersection at New Portland and Brackett roads Construction is expected to begin in July on a roundabout replacing the existing intersection the state says is one of Maine’s most dangerous. (Staff photo by Robert Lowell)

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