SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland City Council has a two-lane approach to slowing traffic on Highland Avenue – they intend to ask the Maine Department of Transportation to lower the posted speed, but they’ll also ask for increased police patrols.

“We’ve been living there for just three years, but the speeds are amazing. It’s a big safety issue,” said Kristy Giles, whose complaint prompted last week’s City Council workshop session.

Giles’ concerns also resulted in a three-day traffic study at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Old Farm Road. According to City Planner Tex Hauser, 9.7 percent of northbound traffic and 6.8 percent of southbound cars passed the checkpoint going faster than 55 mph. The speed limit is 45 mph between Highland Memorial Cemetery and the Scarborough town line.

Hauser also noted that 85 percent of all traffic averaged 48.6 mph. That, said City Manager Jim Gailey, presents one concern with soliciting the state for help.

“There are no guarantees that the speed limit will change as part of this process,” he said. “In fact, DOT might even raise the limit, which happened once before a number of years ago on a section of Broadway between Dairy Corner and the railroad trestle.”

Still, councilors seemed to agree that increased development in the area warrants asking the state to take a look at what was, historically, a favorite flat for would-be drag racers.

“That area has been forever known as ‘the racetrack,’” said Councilor Maxine Beecher, who lives on Highland Avenue. “At one point there was an actual quarter-mile marked off.

“It continues even today,” said Beecher. “To have a car doing 80 when it gets to my house is not unusual. I’m a regular on the phone to the police department.”

However, Councilor Tom Blake said trying to lower the speed limit is “missing a step.” Even at the higher speed, motorists are violating the law.

“It clearly indicates that we have an enforcement issue,” he said. “If we lower this to 35, the problem is not going to go away.”

As a first step in the process, the council has scheduled a public hearing on the issue at its May 21 meeting.


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