THIS MAP shows head-on crashes in the area where the rumble strip will be installed along Route 196 in Topsham. The three locations with flags were fatal crash locations.

THIS MAP shows head-on crashes in the area where the rumble strip will be installed along Route 196 in Topsham. The three locations with flags were fatal crash locations.

TOPSHAM

More than three miles of Route 196 is slated to have a center line rumble strip installed this summer, fully funded by a federal grant as a way to combat the high frequency of head-on crashes on the thoroughfare stretching from Topsham to Lisbon.

Topsham Public Works Director Dennis Cox met with Fire Chief Brian Stockdale, EMS Director Mike Labbe and Police Chief Christopher Lewis last summer after feeling a need from the community to do something about the high volume of crashes occurring on Route 196, “and try to see what we could do to reduce that.”

There had been three fatal accidents on the road within a 12-month period, Cox said, so “it was alarming.”

They talked about several ideas from lighting to timing and then decided to call on the Maine Department of Transportation to see if they had any ideas. At that meeting, Topsham officials inquired about rumble strips and also how much it would cost the town to have them cut into the road.

The rumble strip is made by milling out 7- inch wide by 12-inch long and 3/8-inch deep grooves in the center of the road, between the lanes of traffic. When a driver unintentionally crosses the center line, the rumble strips create noise and vibration inside the vehicle through interaction with the vehicle tires. Often this is enough to alert the distracted driver who can quickly make a corrective steering action to return to their lane safely.

Cox said the two MDOT officials Topsham met with were very receptive to the idea of a rumble strip and planned to include it with a number of other rumble strip projects around the state on order to lessen the cost. However within a couple months, Duane Brunell of MDOT’s safety office told Cox the department had been awarded a federal highway safety grant that will fund the project at 100 percent.

The rumble strip will run from White House Crossing Road and the Lisbon Falls town line, which is about 3.5 miles. It would take about three days to install and won’t require any road closures.

Cox said there will be spaces left where cross streets intersect, where passing zones exist and also at driveway entrances to prevent unnecessary noise and safe travel for motorcycles and bicycles. The cutouts are shallow enough that they do not make motorcycle travel unsafe. They aren’t as deep or as aggressive as the rumble strips people see on the side of the road along Interstate 295.

“It’s amazing; it’s truly amazing how well they work once they’re installed,” Cox said.

Topsham selectmen unanimously endorsed the project at its March 19 meeting and residents who attended an informational meeting on the project Tuesday night were supportive as well. Cox said some felt this shouldn’t be the only measure taken. One idea voiced was lowering the speed limit, which the MDOT will study to see if a change is warranted. Additional police patrols were also suggested.

Brunell said Thursday that the MDOT was already working to identify appropriate corridors for rumble strip when the town approached him. The department can map every crash that happens in the state by the type of crash and injury outcome. It can look at where the head-on crashes are prevalent and where fatalities are occurring and “We agreed with the town that there certainly was a high rate of head-on crashes on that portion of the corridor,” on Route 196. Since 2008, Brunell said there four fatalities and three of them were head-on crashes on Route 196. Two of the fatalities were in 2013.

“One of the things we did see here in the state this past year,” Brunell said, “was the number of head-on fatalities has really sharply risen from the prior four years. Head-on fatalities from 2010 through 2013 were running 31, 32 per year and in 2014 rose up to 47, so it’s a real area of attention.”

Rumble strips won’t take care of everything, such as people with medical issues or who are severely incapacitated or if it’s black ice conditions, Brunell said, but for the common fatigue and distracted driver situations, “rumble strips are really good at intervention.”

No fatalities have been reported on a stretch of Route 1 in Woolwich since a rumble strip was installed in 2006. Brunell said, “We’re seeing overall reductions of head-on crashes by more than 50 percent for all the corridors (with rumble strips),” and easily a 75 percent reduction of fatalities.

At the March 19 board meeting, Topsham Selectwoman Ruth Lyons said, “I had a friend killed there three years ago, and there’s more accidents waiting to happen there, so anything we can do to alleviate that is a good start. I’m not sure it’s a fix but it’s a good start to try.”

Driver’s attention

THE RUMBLE STRIP is made by milling out 7-inch wide by 12-inch long and 3/8- inch deep grooves in the center of the road, between the lanes of traffic. When a driver unintentionally crosses the center line, the rumble strips create noise and vibration inside the vehicle through interaction with the vehicle tires. Often this is enough to alert the distracted driver who can quickly make a corrective steering action to return to their lane safely.


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