NORRIDGEWOCK — A dangerous intersection that was the scene of a gas pump explosion, a fatal crash and many other collisions in recent years will be altered in an effort to make it safer.

Drivers now heading into Norridgewock on Waterville Road, also called Route 139, crest a small hill before descending to a stop sign by Cumberland Farms and proceeding downtown.

Even though those vehicles have a straightaway, they must yield to drivers approaching on the right on Skowhegan Road, which is U.S. Route 2.

The Maine Department of Transportation wants to move the stop sign from Waterville Road to Skowhegan Road, so people coming from Skowhegan will have to stop before turning to proceed through town.

The department is holding a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday at the town office to share information and hear comments from residents.

“I believe that that intersection definitely needs some changes. Can I guarantee that the changes they’re suggesting are going to work? I don’t think anybody can. But I think trying to do something is better than doing nothing,” Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said.

The department also has plans to put an overhead flashing beacon that will flash red on Skowhegan Road and Hotel Street and flash yellow on Waterville Road and Main Street, project manager Brian Keezer said.

There will be dual stop signs facing oncoming traffic on Skowhegan Road, in addition to a “stop ahead” sign and a “new traffic pattern ahead” sign.

When deciding what intersections to improve, the department considers what’s called a critical rate factor, which compares what happens at similar intersections throughout the state and accounts for the volume of traffic.

An average intersection is a 1.0, and anything greater than that is considered high, Keezer said. The Norridgewock intersection has a critical rate factor of 3.25.

“It’s what we consider a high-crash location,” he said. Between 2008 and 2010, the department recorded 11 collisions.

Flewelling said she was driving into town on April 4, 2009, just moments before a car hit the fuel tanks at Cumberland Farms and caused a fiery explosion at the intersection.

In that instance, a vehicle on U.S. 2 intending to turn right onto Main Street instead careened across the intersection and onto the store lot. The vehicle crashed into a pickup truck, injuring two people and causing a gas pump to explode.

Two months later, a 23-year-old Norridgewock man was killed after he passed the stop sign on Waterville Road and crashed through a utility pole, wires, mail boxes, street signs, a fire hydrant and another car. The car held three passengers, ranging in age from 3 months to 19 years.

Flewelling said fire department personnel had to stand at the top of the small hill on Waterville Road to slow vehicles down last Christmas because cars were sliding through the icy intersection.

The intersection has also been a problem for out-of-town drivers, she said.

“If you were unfamiliar with the area you would not think there would be a stop sign in the middle of what is the straight traveling route,” she said. “For tourism purposes this may definitely be a solution, and it will certainly take some time for those who are local to get used to.”

John Bickford, 53, grew up in Norridgewock and said the intersection has been in its current arrangement for as long as he can remember.

He said he worries that removing the stop sign from Waterville Road will allow people to travel too quickly into the downtown. He would prefer to see stop signs at both legs of the intersection.

“There would be too much fast traffic going through town. We don’t have the police coverage to deal with it,” he said.

Keezer said the project is scheduled to go out to bid this spring, with construction anticipated for the summer. The project will cost about $17,000 and will be paid for with federal money.

Waterville and Skowhegan roads have a similar traffic flow, he said. There are roughly 2,300 vehicles traveling on Waterville Road and 2,220 on Skowhegan Road in a 12-hour period.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

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