The state is planning a highway safety project along Route 3, stretching from Augusta to South China, to decrease the likelihood of head-on crashes along the heavily traveled road.

The Maine Department of Transportation plans to install rumble strips along the centerline of Route 3 in areas with speeds over 45 mph with shoulder widths of 4 feet or more. The strips will not go in front of camps, hotels or motels, or in front of major entrances to businesses such as the Hannaford supermarket in South China or busy roads, according to Steve Bodge, assistant program manager of the department’s highway program.

The state points to statistics showing rumble strips have decreased the likelihood of crashes as reasoning for this project and others. The strips create vibrations and noise when a vehicle drives over them, which can get the attention of drivers who don’t realize they’re heading out of their lane. In parts of Maine where rumble strips have been installed, crash fatalities have decreased by 90 percent and collisions have decreased by 40 percent, Bodge said.

“Nationwide, it’s being used as a deterrent to keep people in their own lane,” Bodge said.

Nationally, studies have shown that the strips reduced crossover crashes by an average of 40 percent to 60 percent.

The strips will go along Route 3 for 9.55 miles, starting at the end of the raised island on Church Hill Road and going until the raised island on Route 32, also known as Windsor Road, near the Hannaford supermarket. Bodge said the cost per mile is about $5,000 — for a total cost of $47,750 — and is being paid for with federal and state funds.

Construction of the project won’t begin until after Sept. 15, he said, and the department is still waiting for bids from contractors before setting a designated time. The project should take a maximum of two weeks to complete.

The strips will pass through Vassalboro for 1.9 total miles. The town’s residents recently rejected a separate proposal from the department to add sidewalks to the East Village at the Nov. 8 ballot, which would have left the town with 20 percent of the bill, or $58,600, of that project. The department still will be rebuilding Route 32 from South China to Winslow in 2018, and a five-year moratorium will be imposed on the road afterward, barring any construction by the town.

In 2015, the department found that most severe accidents happen on busy roads with high traffic levels and high speed limits. Since then, it has installed hundreds of miles of rumble strips, Bodge said, starting with about 90 miles in 2015, nearly 150 in 2016, and another 150 planned for 2017.

There were 11 fatalities out of 738 reported crashes from 2011 to 2015 along Route 3 — from Route 27 in Augusta to Route 131 in Belmont — according to Department of Transportation data. Of the drivers in the crashes, 56 drove off the road and 40 veered out of their lane. Of the total number of crashes, 28 were head-on collisions.

The area has an overall critical rate factor, which measures the number of times the crash rate exceeds the expected crash rate, of less than 1, at 0.97. The state lists locations with critical rate factors of more than 1, or eight or more crashes, within two years as a “high crash” location.

The percentage of crashes that result in injuries along Route 3 is about the state average, at 29.2 percent, according to Greg Costello, who manages crash records for the department.

One of the worst areas for crashes was at the intersection of Route 3 and Riverside Drive, or U.S. Route 201, at the “Alfond Connector,” where the two highways meet on the east bank of the lower Kennebec River in Augusta. It had 51 total crashes over the five-year period, but that is west of the place where the rumble strips will start. Another intersection prone to crashes was the starting point for the strips, at Church Hill Road and North Belfast Avenue, which had 22 crashes over the five years.

In Augusta, about 16,000 vehicles traveled daily on Route 3 by the connector road in 2014, according to Debbie Morgan, traffic monitoring supervisor for the department. Just past Church Hill Road, the number drops to about 10,000; and west of Windsor Road in South China, it drops to just over 9,000 vehicles per day.

Maine first began installing rumble strips on non-interstate roads where there was a large number of recorded accidents in 2006, Bodge said, and now has strips on seven routes throughout the state.

The downside to rumble strips is the potential noise they could cause, which is why the state has created policies not to install the strips in certain areas, Bodge said.

“We recognize that noise could be an issue,” he said. “Our expectation’s that the rumble strip won’t be hit very often. It’ll hopefully be bearable due to the amount of safety implications that we have for rumble strips. Other than noise, we have very few negatives that we’ve found in the 10 years that we’ve been putting them in.”

The department will be holding hearings in Augusta and China to get public feedback. Department representatives plan to be at China’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting on March 6 at 7 p.m., but Augusta’s meeting has yet to be announced. The department won’t hold a hearing in Vassalboro.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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