The Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority expect the roundabout they announced would be built at one of the most crash-prone intersections in Maine, the Interstate 95 interchange in West Gardiner, will be finished by December 2015.

The department expects construction on the roundabout to be started by late March and be completed by Dec. 6. Even though work will be done through the summer, both lanes of traffic will remain open during peak travel times, according to the project manager for the state transportation department.

The single-lane roundabout will be built on Routes 9 and 126 between the entrance and exit of Interstate 95 and the Maine Turnpike service plaza. Currently the intersection is controlled by a single blinking traffic light each way, and crashes spiked after the plaza was built in 2008.

There were two crashes in the four years before the plaza was built, but 34 in the four years after it opened, according to statistics provided by the state.

When the plan to build the service plaza was announced, officials for the turnpike authority said the cost savings from not building new entrance and exit ramps to the plaza was one reason they selected the location. The plaza replaced two others on the Maine Turnpike and was designed also to serve drivers on Interstate 295, which has entrance and exit ramps just east of the intersection.

Because of the high crash rate at the intersection, federal highway safety funds will cover 90 percent of the $1.5 million project. The turnpike authority will pick up the remaining 10 percent.

Bids on the project are due in the middle of January.

The state transportation department, which held a public hearing on the project in March, will require the contractor building the roundabout to keep both lanes of traffic open during peak traveling times between June 20 and Sept. 8 of next year, said Rhobe Moulton, project manager for the transportation department.

To reduce traffic build-up, both lanes of traffic will be open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays during those dates, Moulton said.

At other times and in the days before and after summer, travelers should expect normal construction work resulting in lane closures, she said.

Some area residents at the public hearing on the project in March were hesitant about a roundabout being built, but many agreed that something had to be done to improve the intersection, telling stories of close calls or crashes they saw or experienced themselves.

Paula Gravelle, who said she lived near the intersection in West Gardiner, told state and turnpike authority officials that she is scared to cross through it.

“I almost get hit every day. I almost hit others every day,” she said at the hearing. “Something needs to be done.”

Some suggested a traffic light instead, but officials for the department said roundabouts are safer than traffic lights because the wide turns force people to slow down.

“No one’s going to be able to go straight across. That’s why the roundabout is designed like it is,” Jonathan French, a civil engineer for the department, told public hearing attendees. “It’s physically designed to slow traffic down to make it safe.”

Roundabouts reduce fatalities up to 90 percent and injury crashes by 76 percent, according to the department. Roundabouts are considered safer than other traffic control methods because they reduce the number of conflict points, or ways to crash. A typical four-way intersection with a traffic light has 32 conflict points compared with eight in roundabouts.

The state has 22 roundabouts and three rotaries, which are a similar shape but larger and designed to keep traffic flowing at higher speeds.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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