AUGUSTA — Could two travel lanes be better, and safer, than four?
Motorists who use State Street between Union Street and the Hallowell line are about to find out.
At the request of city officials, the traffic pattern on the roughly half-mile stretch of road between the State House and Hallowell is about to change.
The current four travel lanes there now — two in each direction — will be reduced to three lanes total — one travel lane in each direction with a shared center turning lane. State Street is also U.S. Route 201.
Crews expect to complete the paving work this week.
State and city officials say the change is meant to make the road safer. By creating a dedicated center turn lane for vehicles turning left off State Street, the theory goes, it will reduce rear-end accidents and traffic stacking up behind vehicles turning left which now do so from the inside travel lanes.
“If I’m turning left from a center lane (instead of one of the current inside travel lanes) it will be safer for me and the people who’d be behind me, because they don’t have to worry about getting around me, and traffic won’t be stacking up,” said Lesley Jones, the city’s public works director.
Tony McFarland, outgoing owner of Al’s Pizza — a pizza, wings and sandwich shop that is roughly in the middle of the construction zone on State Street — isn’t so sure the change is for the better. McFarland said he hadn’t officially heard the lane configuration was going to change.
“In the beginning, I think it’ll be confusing to a few people; I’m not sure everyone here quite understands those turning lanes,” McFarland said. “I think people will get used to it, but I wish they weren’t doing it.”
Jones feels people are more familiar with center turning lanes than they used to be.
Work on the project is expected to be complete by the end of September, according to Ted Talbot, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
McFarland is happy the construction appears to finally be nearing its end. He said the work going on outside Al’s Pizza, as well as another construction project which started last summer farther down U.S. 201 in Farmingdale, chased off some customers who didn’t want to deal with construction to get a bite to eat. He said some motorists have been avoiding the construction zones by commuting on the other side of the Kennebec River, on Route 27, rather than take U.S. 201.
“It has been slow — people don’t want to come here and eat with the construction going on,” said McFarland, who recently sold the business to new owners. “With this and the work in Farmingdale, last year and this year, it has been real tough. I’m hoping traffic will come back to this side of the river.”
Talbot said the need to make it safer for motorists to turn left off the section of road is made greater by the growing number of businesses along the stretch.
Also, Talbot and Jones said, the volume of traffic on that part of State Street isn’t so high that it requires four travel lanes.
Talbot said the current traffic count is 15,390 vehicles a day. In 12 years, that’s expected to grow to 17,240 vehicles a day.
Jones said the traffic counts indicate one lane each in both directions, with a turning lane, should be sufficient.
The work will also allow space for bicycle lanes on both sides of the road.
Once it is paved, new striping will be done to show the new traffic pattern. Signs will be in place to help motorists navigate the new traffic pattern.
Talbot said the project is being completed by CPM Constructors out of Freeport, at a cost of about $1.2 million.
The project started in mid-July, Talbot said. However, parts of the section of road have been under construction since at least last summer, when Greater Augusta Utility District crews replaced water lines in the area.