TOPSHAM

Topsham selectmen expressed their disappointment last week with a traffic light improvement project along Route 196 that they say was supposed to be completed last month.

“I’m sure many people have noticed the work that has been taking place out on Route 196 over the last couple of weeks,” Town Manager Rich Roedner said, referring to the Maine Department of Transportation project to replace traffic signals between the Coastal Connector and Interstate 295. “Understand that, while the lights might be functional, they’re not necessarily correct.”

Roedner added: “We’ve experienced some issues with some of the camera units they’ve been using and we brought these to the MDOT’s attention and the contractor’s attention. It’s not clear exactly when things are going to get fixed by the contractor,” but town staff hope some of it is immediate because they are safety issues.

Roedner said he believes the contractor is still working on replacing lights. Last time town officials met with MDOT during the preliminary design phase, it was their understanding “that they were replacing all the lights and all of the camera systems.”

The MDOT did say they are not replacing all the lights at this point, however, so there may be an LED light next to one of the old lights, Roedner said. MDOT officials also say they’re not replacing all of the camera systems with new radar cameras, “So we’re going to have new lights, new controllers and cameras that have moisture in them and foggy lenses and things of that nature. These are all issues that we’ve raised with MDOT. In our view, that’s not acceptable because what essentially is happening is the DOT is doing a bit of it and then they’re going to turn it over to us.”

The concern is that the town will be responsible for maintaining the traffic lights at that point. However, MDOT has been responsive to the town’s concerns, Roedner said. The new project manager for MDOT, Chris Bobay, noted in a Thursday email to the town’s public works director that several issues had already been addressed including replacement of a camera with moisture on the lens. Bobay said the town will not incur any expenses for these issues beyond the original $17,000 it agreed to pay for light work at Topsham Fair Mall.

A new issue, for example, is that the emergency override, or preemptive traffic lights that turn green for approaching emergency vehicles, are not working in all directions, Roedner said. It is one of the issues the town wants addressed while the contractor, A.D. Electric, is in town working.

“This just seems to be a relatively straightforward project that’s turned really into an unmitigated disaster,” said Selectman William Thompson.

The contractor started working with a week to go in their contractual obligation and now the town is hearing some work may not be completed until spring, said Thompson, adding that it’s disappointing to hear they may have old equipment out.

It could cost the town $2,000 for repairs to the system, which is done by the same contractor doing the replacements.

“This is just completely and totally unacceptable,” Thompson said. He suggested the town get their legislative representatives involved.

After the meeting, Selectmen Chairman David Douglass said the MDOT received a grant to redo the traffic light system so it would operate on a camera system, providing a better ability to track traffic flow and backups. The work was supposed to be done by Dec. 31.

Thompson added it should allow vehicles following the speed limit to get through the string of lights along Route 196 once they get a green light, rather than the current stop-and-go drivers experience.

Looking at what the town was promised and what it got, “it’s a complete disaster,” he said.

Getting land

• TOPSHAM selectmen said they are open to accepting 26 acres of land from a developer who has been stymied by the market and road construction costs. See story, page A2.



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