AUGUSTA — Smith Street residents worry they have to put their lives at risk to turn onto Western Avenue, saying an ongoing construction project’s changes make it hard for them to see approaching traffic.

Residents of the street met on Tuesday at the corner of Smith Street and Western Avenue with state Department of Transportation officials to ask them to fix the problem before it’s too late.

“The sightlines are so bad you can’t see to turn right or left,” resident Ron Lovaglio said. “The thought is, before construction is done, fix it. Let’s fix it now before we go down the road and have a real safety issue we’re all sorry about.”

Seth Wills, an assistant engineer with the state who met with residents to discuss their concerns, said the travel lane being used by traffic coming into Augusta now is not where the travel lane will be when the project is complete. He said the travel lane will be about three feet farther away from Smith Street, which would provide a 5-foot paved shoulder between Smith Street and the eastbound travel lane closest to it.

He also said he would speak with the design engineer on the project to find out whether the sightlines there meet standards, whether a stone wall installed as part of the project could be lowered and whether other steps could be taken to make it easier for motorists.

“We want to build something that is safe and that meets engineering standards,” Wills said, assuring residents he would speak with the project’s design engineer soon.

Residents said their views from Smith Street to the west are blocked by a combination of the crest of a hill, a utility pole and the stone retaining wall. If they pull out enough to see oncoming traffic, they said, the front of their vehicles are in the travel lane.

Resident Patsy Crockett, a former Democratic state representative, said it’s especially bad in cars low to the road compared with higher-sitting trucks.

Residents said it’s likely to get even worse when winter comes and snow will cover the wall and everything else, making it that much harder to see. Ice on the road will make pulling out into traffic that much slower because of a lack of traction, they said.

“Come winter, there may be 2 feet of snow hanging over that wall,” resident Rick Lane said. “And when there is ice on the road, it’s going to take me three to four seconds longer to pull out. By the time I’ve done that, I’ve already made my decision. I’m either going to get broad-sided, rear-ended, or just barely get by.”

Lesley Jones, the city’s public works director, said sightlines have always been a problem pulling out from Smith Street onto Western Avenue.

Lovaglio said it has always been hard to pull onto Western Avenue from Smith Street, but before it was hard because of the large volume and high speed of traffic, not because of sightlines.

“It has gotten worse instead of better,” he said. “The sightline wasn’t a problem before.”

Lovaglio said if the state can’t engineer an improvement, it should put in a traffic light at the site.

Wills, noting he is not an expert on traffic light placement, speculated that the intersection of Western Avenue and Smith Street might be too close to a traffic light at the intersection of Western Avenue and Shuman Avenue to have its own traffic light.

Ward 1 City Councilor Michael Byron, who lives on Smith Street, said he doesn’t think the sightline from Smith Street to the west meets minimum standards for distance.

The road project, a reconstruction of about a half-mile of Western Avenue, began in September last year and initially was expected to be done by August. However, state transportation officials have said delays in the project mean it won’t be completed until next year.

Wills said the priority right now is to get a base layer of pavement down on Western Avenue in both directions before winter.

The contractor on the job, R.J. Grondin and Sons, of Gorham, is expected to return when the weather warms up next year to put on a final layer of pavement.

The $3.8 million project between Prescott Road and Edison Drive has involved moving both underground utility pipes and overhead utility lines and poles and, when it’s done, will include new sidewalks, turning lanes and a new traffic signal.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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Twitter: @kedwardskj