Two state lawmakers have submitted bills to lower the speed limit on part of Interstate 295 in response to a surge in the number of accidents on the highway since the limit was raised to 70 mph in 2014

Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, and Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, want the speed limit lowered to 60 mph on the heavily-traveled stretch of road between Falmouth and Brunswick.

Millett said driving on the highway can be a nerve-rattling experience.

“I drive I-295 four times a week in heavy traffic when we are in session and by the time I get to Brunswick my hands ache from gripping the steering wheel,” Millett said.

“For four years I have seen it get incrementally worse every year,” she said. “In my mind I think we need something fairly soon to address this issue. This is just one step we can take.”

The number of accidents has increased 32 percent on I-295 between Falmouth and Gardiner since 2013, the year before the speed limit was raised from 65 mph to 70 mph. There were 354 crashes on I-295 on that stretch in 2015, roughly 25 percent more than the 284 average annual crashes on the same stretch from 2006 to 2013, according to transportation department data.

Daily traffic volume on I-295 increased 12 percent from 2009 to 2015, to the point where enforcing the speed limit has become dangerous, a Maine State Police official said this month.

“During those rush hour times it’s nearly impossible to safely do enforcement work” said Lt. Walter F. Grzyb of Troop B in Gray, which is responsible for policing I-295. “By having a car pulled over on the side of the road, you’re actually creating more of a hazard than you’re fixing.”

The Maine Department of Transportation acknowledges traffic volume is straining the highway’s capacity. More cars are on the road for longer stretches of time, increasing the number of crashes and back-ups even during non-rush-hour periods. The agency plans a long-term study of I-295 and is considering solutions to make the road safer, including better signs and modified interchange ramps.

Millett said she submitted the bill after an analysis by the Portland Press Herald confirmed her suspicion that the road was becoming more dangerous. A 60 mph limit seemed like a good baseline since many drivers will speed 5-10 mph over, Millett said.

Pierce agreed that the increasing number of accidents is cause for concern.

“We just have so many more people living in the area now that those roads are so busy, both north and south,” Pierce said.

“You are going 50 mph in Portland and it jumps to 70 mph in Falmouth,” Pierce said. “I think to have an incremental increase would be a wise suggestion on that stretch of road.”

It is unclear how a bill to change the speed limit would be worded. The Maine Commissioner of Transportation has the discretion to raise or lower speed limits with input from the state police chief, said transportation department spokesman Ted Talbot. The department will not comment on the proposal until it has language to review, Talbot said.

“We don’t comment on anything that is not an actual bill in front of us,” Talbot said.

 


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