WOOLWICH — The town of Woolwich purchased land on which it could build a new road connecting Route 1 and George Wright Road. The new road would replace the existing dangerous intersection and bypass the need for expensive changes in the existing intersection.

Residents voted 39-15 to approve the purchase during a special town meeting Monday. The wooded land covers 1.2 acres, just under the size of a football field, and cost $69,000, which came out of the town’s undesignated fund balance. It was purchased from residents Dennis and Sylvia Savage Fuller.

“This piece of land would give the town the option to build a new entrance to George Wright Road,” said Jason Shaw, a Woolwich selectman. “All we want to do is secure the lot so we have it as an option. Nothing is written in stone.”

In the past three years, Woolwich’s fire and rescue department responded to 17 calls, three of which were fatal, between the Taste of Maine Restaurant and where Route 1 intersects with George Wright Road, according to Woolwich Fire Chief Mike Demers. Demers said he believes speed is a factor in most accidents, as the speed limit changes from 35 to 55 miles per hour on the bridge, and turning onto Route 1 from George Wright Road can be challenging for drivers because the curve in the road reduces visibility.

Building a new road there would cost about $500,00, according to Devan Eaton, Maine Department of Transportation project manager.

Although it’s an option, Shaw said whether the new road will be built depends on a MaineDOT project happening farther south on Route 1.

The MaineDOT is gearing up to replace an over 80-year-old Route 1 bridge, just north of the Taste of Maine Restaurant, that has become structurally unsound. However, a section of that road also has flooding issues during high tide.

The MaineDOT is partnering with the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust in the hopes of remedying culverts underneath Route 1 where it dips down into the marsh. The culverts are too small, said Eaton, which causes the road to flood frequently. Before Route 1 was built through the marsh, it was an unrestricted tidal salt marsh. After the road bisected the marsh, the wetlands north of Route 1 was cut off from its saltwater source, and over time has taken on freshwater characteristics.

To fix this, Eaton said the MaineDOT and Kennebec Estuary Land Trust are considering raising Route 1 in that area by five feet to account for sea level rise. The MaineDOT would also install a larger, 81-foot-long culvert, allowing the tidal water to flow easily.

If that happens, Woolwich would have to replace an adjacent culvert under George Wright Road where it intersects with Route 1 and raise George Wright Road to meet Route 1. Eaton estimated that would cost the town over $2 million.

“We’re not going to do that because it’s cost-prohibitive and at the end of the day we’d still have a dangerous intersection,” said Woolwich Selectman Jason Shaw.

According to MaineDOT Spokesman Paul Merrill, 500 cars drove on George Wright Road near the Route 1 intersection daily in 2019. The road leads to neighborhoods.

Comments are not available on this story.