SKOWHEGAN — Last year, 3,230 motor vehicles a day traveled south on U.S. Route 201 from Skowhegan, where it meets U.S. Route 2, past the Sappi paper mill toward Interstate 95.

About the same number traveled north.

About 87 percent of the vehicles were passenger cars, the rest were light and heavy trucks.

This week, workers from the Maine Department of Transportation are spending two days installing traffic classifying sensors in the pavement along the route, which is Waterville Road in Skowhegan.

The resulting data will be collected by state highway officials and turned over to federal transportation officials and finally to the U.S. Congress.

Results will be used to help calculate how much money the state will receive in federal highway money in the coming budget year, said Debby Morgan, traffic monitoring supervisor for the state transportation department.

Morgan said the data will be used in the federal 2013 fiscal budget. The state received $169 million in federal money in the budget year that ended in June and expects about the same this year, department public information officer Ted Talbot said.

“It is a federal requirement that we collect data on a continuous basis for a sampling of the state,” Morgan. “It is part of the formula that they use to determine how much money we get from the feds for highways in the state of Maine.”

The project offers information to the state’s traffic monitoring program, providing the number of vehicles using specific road throughout the year, as well as changes in travel patterns, she said.

The installation began Wednesday and should be done by the end of the work day today. Flaggers will assist with alternating one-way traffic for a quarter mile beginning approximately two miles north of Varney Road near the Sappi mill.

Morgan said the state uses two methods in its traffic count program. One is the familiar portable count program, in which monitors are placed across a highway for short-term data collection. The one on Waterville Road this week is part of the continuous count program, where permanent monitors are placed under the road to collect data 24 hours a days, 365 days a year.

“One of the things the Skowhegan site does is, not only does it tell us how much traffic is on that road every day, it tells us what type of traffic it is — how many passenger vehicles, how many trucks and what type of trucks they are,” she said. “One of things they look at is trends in traffic, what’s going on at a particular site from year to year; how is the traffic growing, or if it’s decreasing.”

She said monthly reports are sent to the Federal Highway Administration, where a traffic trends report is generated using data from every state.

Morgan said the collected data will not include traffic on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridge over the Kennebec River, where congestion has been a problem for years. State highway officials have studied the need for a second bridge over the river and for a a bypass road around downtown Skowhegan, but to date no plans have been accepted.

Morgan said a monitoring station installed on at the bridge in 2011 recorded an average of 9,790 motor vehicles northbound daily into Skowhegan. Southbound traffic averaged 10,010 vehicles per day.

“That’s fairly heavy traffic for the state of Maine,” she said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

 

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