So far this summer, several cars have crashed at the intersection of U.S. Route 202 and Main Street in Winthrop, despite the recent completion of a state-funded construction project that aimed to make the historically dangerous intersection safer.

Those accidents, as well as the confusion that has accompanied the new traffic pattern, have caused some Winthrop residents to become frustrated with the change.

“I don’t know who planned that,” said Laurie Tompkins, who owns a secondhand-clothing store on Main Street and now tries to avoid driving there. “It’s horrendous. It really is a scary intersection. … I hear the sirens go up Main Street, and all I’m thinking of is, ‘Someone has gotten into an accident on the intersection.'”

But state Department of Transportation officials say accidents aren’t unusual after a new traffic pattern has been developed, and that it could take some time for drivers to get used to the new design.

They say they will continue to study the intersection and make necessary improvements, such as adding new signs or painting new traffic lines, but they also encourage drivers to be careful when navigating the changed pattern.

“I think people need to recognize that this has been a trouble spot, and approach it with caution,” said Ted Talbot, a DOT spokesman. “We’ll do all we can to continue to modify it as need be, but we can only make the road as safe as we can. There is shared responsibility between what we can do with the traffic pattern, and drivers who need to take responsibility.”


Officials made those changes to address a historically high rate of accidents in the intersection. In the decade before the new pattern was built, 65 crashes were reported in that intersection, or about seven per year, according to state data.

Since the new intersection was completed earlier this summer, four accidents already have been reported, according to the same data. Three passenger cars, three pickup trucks, one sport utility vehicle and one large truck all have been tied up in the recent crashes, which each occurred on weekdays during daylight hours.

According to Dan Cook, interim Winthrop police chief, all those accidents have involved drivers who were turning across the westbound lane of U.S. 202, either because they were heading onto Main Street to go toward downtown, or onto U.S. 202’s eastbound lanes to go toward Augusta.

In each case, Cook said, those turning cars failed to yield to other vehicles heading west. None of the recent accidents resulted in serious injuries, and no one was charged as a result of them, Cook added.

The purpose of the redesign was to eliminate confusion for drivers who have to turn across westbound U.S. 202, said Stephen Landry, the state traffic engineer at Maine DOT.

In the old pattern, the two eastbound lanes of U.S. 202 were thruways, so anyone turning off Main Street would have to wait for a break in westbound traffic, then cross into a traffic island, then wait for another break in eastbound traffic that would allow them to merge and get up to speed.


Those turning off eastbound U.S. 202 lanes would enter a different part of the traffic island, then wait for a break on westbound U.S. 202 to enter Main Street.

In the new pattern, the islands have been eliminated and replaced with a separate turning lane on eastbound U.S. 202, which almost acts like an on- and off-ramp, and a stop sign has been added for drivers turning onto Main Street. The effect is almost that of a two-way stop sign, but with traffic never stopping on westbound U.S. 202.

“We put all decision points at one location,” Landry said. “We’re putting everybody where they’re theoretically looking at each other. That’s the key to the intersection. When you’re making that left to Main Street, you can see the person turning left towards 202. … That’s a big advantage to the way that’s set up.”

At the same time, Landry said, officials will continue to monitor the intersection and consider any changes that might improve it. He referred to yellow signs that have been posted recently below some of the stop signs that indicate “Traffic Does Not Stop” on westbound U.S. 202.

But on Facebook, many residents have said the new stop signs are having an opposite effect.

Tompkins, who posted notices earlier this week about one of the accidents there, said drivers aren’t sure who has the right of way when two vehicles are stopped at the signs on Main Street and eastbound U.S. 202, and that that confusion can make it harder for drivers to notice oncoming traffic in westbound U.S. 202.


“If you’re leaving Main Street and you’re up there sitting there, you really don’t know what to do,” she said. “We didn’t have to do that with the last pattern. All you had to do was cross over to the waiting area. There was not a stop coming from south side.”

Acknowledging that confusion some drivers have experienced, Landry said the standard rules of the road apply for drivers who are at those stop signs: the first person to come to the sign has the right of way to go first.

Cook, the interim police chief, referred most questions about the intersection to Maine DOT but said that it would be “premature” to judge its safety in its first month of activity, particularly given how accustomed to the old traffic pattern some drivers had become.

Dan Brooks, Winthrop’s fire chief, also said he’s waiting to see if the intersection will prove less befuddling to drivers going forward. But he added that he’s not an engineer and therefore isn’t qualified to evaluate the new pattern’s overall safety.

“We’re kind of hoping that as a little bit of time goes by, that what’s going on is going to settle down,” he said. “It’s new to people, and apparently confusing people.”

The Fire Department is building a station just west of that intersection on U.S. 202 and will have its own blinking lights it can use to there, Brooks said. The new station could be finished by next May.


The department also has been considering how it might deal with accidents at the new intersection, and anticipates most of them in the westbound lane of U.S. 202, he added. If that were the case, the department is prepared to route traffic onto Main Street to get around the intersection.

One concern, Brooks added, is that when snow piles up in winter, it could prove harder for drivers who need to see around the snowbanks to cross U.S. 202’s westbound lanes.

While some residents have mentioned the possibility of adding a traffic light at that intersection, Landry said such an addition could lead to more accidents, given the 45 and 55 mph speed limits along that section of U.S. 202.

But not all reactions to the intersection have been negative. State transportation officials have received positive feedback about it, Talbot said.

And in response to Tompkins’ recent Facebook post about the accident at the intersection, one woman responded, “I really think it is better and it is called paying attention.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

Twitter: @ceichacker

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