SOUTH PORTLAND — The city is asking the Maine Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit on a section of Highland Avenue that one city councilor has dubbed a “racetrack.”

The city is seeking a reduction from 40 mph to 35 mph on the straight stretch of Highland Avenue between the Scarborough town line and Highland Memorial Cemetery, where the speed limit drops to 30 mph.

City Manager Jim Gailey’s request to the Department of Transportation — which sets speed limits on most Maine roads — has the unanimous support of city councilors.

South Portland’s request will be in line behind others from across the state and could take months to address, said Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot. The state will do an extensive study that includes analyses of speeds and crash data.

The request was prompted by concerns about drivers speeding through an area with neighborhoods of single-family homes and the Wainwright Recreation Athletic Complex.

A three-day traffic count by the city showed that nearly 10 percent of the traffic in the northbound lane and nearly 7 percent of traffic in the southbound lane exceeded 50 mph.

Department of Transportation engineers prefer to set a road’s speed limit close to the speed that 85 percent of drivers are going — the 85th percentile — but consider other factors, such as the number of access points and crashes, Talbot said.

The 85th percentile speed on Highland Avenue is just over 48 mph. Crash data weren’t immediately available, but will be compiled as part of the study.

The speed of traffic on South Portland’s stretch of Highland Avenue has been discussed for years, as the area has become more densely populated, Gailey said. Highland Avenue in Scarborough has fewer homes and businesses.

“The Highland Avenue corridor is one of the biggest growth areas we’ve had in the past 15 years,” Gailey said. “For a number of years we’ve been seeing traffic going down Highland Avenue at a high rate of speed.”

Police Chief Ed Googins said it is “probably a good thing” to look at the speed limit, because busy Highland Avenue is one of the city’s “hot spots” for complaints about speeders.

A review of the area dating back to 2009 showed about 150 citations for a variety of infractions — including speeding — on Highland Avenue. Speed is a common trigger for stops that lead to tickets for other infractions, Googins said.

“Our primary concern is the fact that we clearly have a stretch of roadway in which the speed limit is violated on a regular basis,” he said.

City Councilor Maxine Beecher said she lives on the “worst end” of Highland Avenue for speeding, near the Scarborough line.

She said drivers have long treated the road like a “racetrack.”

Beecher is concerned about the safety of pedestrians in the area and regularly calls the police to report speeding, she said.

South Portland previously requested a speed limit reduction on Broadway west of Cash Corner, but the transportation department increased the limit. The department rarely raises speed limits, but it can happen, Talbot said.

Planning Director Tex Haeuser, in a memo to staff, said a state official told him there is a “reasonable” chance the speed limit will be reduced.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian