Forest Street is a popular short cut between Stroudwater and Main streets. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK — Forest Street residents who have complained for years about cars speeding through their residential neighborhood might see their 25 mph speed limit increased as part of an attempt to finally mitigate the problem.

The city, in an effort to address residents’ complaints since at least 2002, has asked the state to determine the actual speed limit on Forest Street, which is designated as an official “state-aid highway,” a connector between Stroudwater and Main streets.

Because of the state designation, the city has been unable to adequately respond to residents’ concerns, according to Mayor Mike Foley. The city can’t fix a state road on its own, he said.

The city has been limited in potential remedies, such as adding more speed limit signs or installing speed bumps, because the posted 25 mph speed limit may be incorrect, he said. The state could set the Forest Street speed limit at 30 mph. 

But, after the state study, the city can lobby for a classification change on the state road, ask the state to add some fixes like narrowing the road or, at least, post more speed limit signs in the hope of curbing cases of people going towards 50 mph.

Narrowing the road and adding speed tables and medians have been suggested in the past, but would all require state action, according to Foley, because Forest Street is technically a state road or a “state aid highway.”

Westbrook officials say Forest Street’s posted 25 mph speed limit may be incorrect and a state study is needed before changes in the neighborhood can be enacted. Chance Viles / American Journal

The City Council Oct. 5 opted to request a state study to clear up the speed limit issue in an effort to start taking steps towards slowing traffic down the road.

City Director of Engineering and Public Services Eric Dudley said a Maine Department of Transportation official told him “a few years ago” that the 25 mph posting on Forest Street “was improper.”

He stated unofficially that the signs should come down or a speed limit study be requested. He also warned me at the time that the result of the study would likely be an increase to 30 mph.  This was, and continues to be, counter to the wishes of the neighborhood,” Dudley said.

If the Forest Street speed limit is raised by the state, the city can address the problem through driver education, adding more speed limit signs to the street or working with the state to change the road classification to allow lower speeds, Foley said.

The city could also ask the state to add speed bumps or medians.

 “Some neighbors said let’s find out for certain what that is, and then consider moving forward with recommendations if there is anything we can do to slow traffic,” Foley said in an interview.

The state determines speed limits by the shape of the road, accidents on it in a three-year time frame, intersections and visibility, Dudley said. Given the low number of accidents and the width of the road, the Forest Street limit will likely go up, he said.

Foley said a state study of the road is necessary.

“Once we know if 30 is the real speed limit, then we can work on fixing it, but ultimately what we need is more signs and more police to enforce speed limits,” Foley said.

Resident Rebecca Dillon, who lives on the street, said it has been “frustrating” having the problem acknowledged, but no solutions provided.

She hopes the state study gets the ball rolling and will give the city more control over the speed limit.

I agree with Mayor Foley, otherwise we’ve been just talking about this issue for years and years and nothing gets done,” Dillon said. 

An in-house study of the road in late June and early July 2020 showed a median speed of 31 mph, Dudley said, while the highest observed speed was 38 mph. City Administrator Jerre Bryant said, however, that there have been cases of cars traveling at or above 50 mph.

“I understand as a driver, with the off-ramps you go from that to a residential area very quick, but it’s been an issue with people hitting the stop sign because they are going to fast and don’t stop or roll through,” Dillon said.

The annual traffic count on Forest Street is 2,700, according to Dudley.

Foley said that he understands Forest Street residents’ complaints, given that neighboring streets are 25 mph, and that Forest Street has become more populated over time.

“There is a chance MaineDOT sees the number of residences and lowers the speed, but that is less likely,” he said.

“Given the options, doing the study makes the most sense. Not doing anything is not an option, that’s what we did last year. The residents don’t want nothing, this is a problem they want us to do something about,” Ward 1 City Councilor David Morse said at the Facilities & Streets City Council meeting Oct. 5.

In the meantime, the city is looking at adding flashing speed lights and other signs to remind drivers to slow down.

“The residents want those flashing speed limit signs, those have been ordered, we will have at least one on Forest St.,” Bryant said. “But also, what is technically the speed limit?”

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