In the news this week: Rumble strips in Winthrop, fiddleheads by the water

THUMBS UP to a Maine Department of Transportation plan to place rumble strips along a particularly dangerous stretch of Route 202 in Winthrop.

The plan, which received the support of residents at a public hearing Tuesday night, calls for placing the rumble strips along the road’s center line this summer, likely from just west of the Manchester line to the intersection of Old Lewiston Road and Annabessacook Road. There will be some gaps in the strips along the way, near intersections, businesses and residences.

The section of Route 202 through Winthrop was the site of 28 head-on or near-head-on crashes between 2003 and 2013, resulting in 28 serious injuries. Seven people have died in crashes there since 2003, including one in March that was caused by a head-on collision.

The department says it has had great success with center-line rumble strips. They appear on eight sections of Maine roads now, including on Route 1 in Woolwich and Route 4 in Turner, where the total number of head-on collision have been cut in half in the six years since the strips were installed, compared to the six years before the strips were put in place. The total number of fatalities has gone from eight to zero.

Transportation officials expect similar results in Winthrop. If that’s the case, the $34,000 cost is a no-brainer.

It may take more than the rumble strips to improve safety on Route 202, as some residents have suggested, but the strips are a good start.

THUMBS DOWN to a report by a fiddleheads expert saying the popular spring treat is in danger of disappearing from some heavily foraged areas if people don’t adopt more sustainable practices.

It’s hard to imagine a Maine spring without fiddleheads. With their tell-tale coiled heads, the delicacy is picked from water banks from late April through early June.

In some easily accessed areas, however, the fiddleheads are facing a crisis, said David Fuller, of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, at a talk last weekend at the Fiddlehead Festival and Local Food Day in Farmington.

Walking through the woods across from Front Street in Farmington, Fuller said foragers in that area and ones like it have been picking more than half the fiddleheads each year, which limits the plant’s ability to reproduce enough to sustain its population.

“I predict in about 10 years that here there won’t be fiddleheads left,” he told a group of 20 festival attendees.

The Legislature last year resisted approving regulation around fiddlehead harvesting, but that restraint won’t last if the problem continues.

Fiddlehead foragers need to police themselves to keep the springtime tradition intact. The Extension can help, through a publication that offers harvesting tips.

THUMBS UP to soft-drink giants Coke and Pepsi for announcing they will no longer use brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, in their products. But not for the reasons you may think.

BVO is used to bind a soft drink’s colors and flavors together, so your orange Gatorade or Powerade is uniform in appearance, not full of dark, floating specks. There is some indication that BVO is harmful, but research is slim. It has been banned in the European Union.

That is similar to the story surrounding azodicarbonamide, a chemical used in a variety of food products — and in yoga mats. It made news recently because it can be found in the bread used at Subway restaurants as a dough strengthener. (The company says it is removing the chemical from its products, CNN reported in February.)

The evidence that azodicarbonamide is dangerous, however, is scant.

The presence of these chemicals, however, does draw attention to foods with a long list of unpronounceable ingredients. It’s not that these ingredients make the food unhealthy, per se, but the types of heavily processed foods that have so many ingredients also are often the kind that offer nothing nutritionally.

So avoid these foods in excess not because they contain some dubious ingredient, but because they add nothing to one’s diet.