MANCHESTER — In an effort to reduce traffic accidents during busy commuting hours, the state Department of Transportation plans to reconfigure a mile-long stretch of U.S. Route 202.

Officials plan to eliminate one of two lanes that now takes traffic from Manchester to Augusta and create a center turning lane in its place.

The change would leave the route, on which an average of 20,000 vehicles travel daily, with one travel lane in each direction and a center lane for turning traffic from both directions, from Old Winthrop Road near J&S Oil to Pelton Hill Road near the Augusta-Manchester line.

Steve Landry, a state traffic engineer, said 31 crashes have occurred on stretch of road over a three-year period ending in 2014, with eight of those crashes involving injuries to occupants of the vehicles.

“We had some crash history out there, and we were approached by the municipality to see what we can do to help solve some of this stuff,” Landry said. “This will get everybody (heading east toward Augusta) into one lane by J&S Oil and be a better use of lanes and more systematic flow.”

But the change — because it is eliminating one of two eastbound travel lanes to make way for the turn lane — could worsen the occasional traffic back-ups that can occur during the high-traffic morning commute through the area.

Landry said that effect should be minimal and emphasized that similar configurations have worked well at other high-traffic locations. He also noted the evening commute, in the opposite direction, has even more cars than the morning commute, all of which already travel through that area in only one lane.

“It’ll be a little bit worse for inbound (Augusta) commuters, but that has always had an issue,” Landry said. “We’ve done some traffic modeling to make sure one lane works. You’ve already got one lane coming out of Augusta, with an extra 200 cars then, and that’s working fairly well. It would work even better, not having left-turning cars stopping traffic.”

Landry and Ted Talbot, spokesman for the DOT, said the dominant type of accident on the section now is vehicles waiting to turn left getting rear-ended by other vehicles.

Those accidents, Landry noted, can happen in either direction, with traffic headed west from Augusta into Manchester often backing up when a vehicle stops to make a left turn. That’s because with no turning lane and a narrow shoulder, there is no way for traffic to get around vehicles that are stopped to turn.

Rear-end accidents occur in traffic headed east toward Augusta when vehicles stop in the left lane of the two eastbound lanes to turn left, such as into the Irving gas station, and they get hit by vehicles trying to use that lane to pass slower vehicles.

Scott Lanpher, owner of Scott’s Recreation, a camper and trailer dealer on the side of the road that now has two lanes, thinks the proposed changes will improve traffic flow in both directions.

“We hear squealing brakes all the time, people trying to stop behind people trying to turn” off the busy road, Lanpher said. “There have been quite a few accidents. If this goes according to plan, it should be a nice change that will help cut down on the number of accidents on that stretch. I think it’s a great solution, with what they have to work with.”

Lanpher agreed traffic backups have been a problem during the eastbound morning commute in the past, but he said those have disappeared since the DOT made other changes on U.S. 202 in Augusta near Charlie’s Motor Mall, including adding turning lanes and widening the roadway.

“The morning commute would be a huge concern, had they not completed the lane changes they did by Charlie’s Motor Mall,” Lanpher said. “I used to sit here, from 7:40 to 8:10 in the morning, thinking I should get out there and tell everyone we’re having a sale, because it was a parking lot out there. But that’s all gone. It doesn’t happen anymore since the changes made by Charlie’s. I’m impressed with the way they did it. We just don’t have those backups any more.”

If the changes don’t work, Talbot said, they could be undone fairly easily. The measure of whether they work will be both how many accidents occur there after the change and public feedback the DOT plans to seek from motorists.

On the project’s website, in addition to information about the changes, the DOT also plans to have an electronic survey, so anyone can weigh in on what they think of the changes and how traffic flows after they are made.

Landry said the changes, which would involve mostly just new striping to show the new lane usage, should take place in early July. He said painting new stripes shouldn’t cost much, probably about a couple of thousand dollars.

Talbot said the DOT plans to repave that area as soon as next year, so when that’s done, it could be changed back if the new configuration doesn’t work as well as hoped.

“It’s an experiment; it’s not written in stone,” Talbot said. “We want feedback on the design from everybody. The success and failure will be measured by feedback, and the number of crashes. If the feedback is bad, or we feel it’s not working, we’re already going to be having a paving project there anyway, so we’ll just stripe it back to normal.”

DOT officials already have met with selectmen to present the proposal and also plan to hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. June 24, at Manchester Elementary School.

Landry said other high-traffic locations with similar configurations include U.S. Route 1 in the southern end of Wiscasset, U.S. Route 1A in Holden, U.S. Route 1 in Wells, U.S. Route 202 in Lewiston by Marden’s, and Brighton Avenue in Portland. More locally, he said the change is similar to one made on U.S. 202 in Winthrop near D.R. Struck, where one of two travel lanes was converted to a center turning lane, and where accidents have decreased since then.

Officials said the change should make it easier for motorists to get in and out of business parking lots along that stretch of road. Traffic turning left into businesses will have a dedicated lane to do so and will be less likely to get hit from behind. Also, Landry said, motorists turning left when leaving businesses will be able to pull across the closest travel lane and into the new turning lane, then merge into traffic in the far travel lane.

With the change, eastbound traffic in Manchester would merge from two lanes to one near J&S Oil, instead of just after Pelton Hill Road, where it now merges, sometimes begrudgingly.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.