Islands in the Kennebec River can be seen in the background of this photograph of the traffic island on Kennebec Street in Farmingdale. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

FARMINGDALE — Selectman Wayne Kilgore has raised alarms about traffic islands that could damage vehicles on Kennebec Drive and Park Street, but removing them may not be simple.

Kilgore said two islands on Park Street and Kennebec Drive at the intersection of Maine Avenue, also known as U.S. Route 201, could be hazardous for large vehicles, like dump trucks, school buses or snowplows, or vehicles with low clearance. He said the issue is illustrated by the scars and dings on the islands’ surface.

“When you drive by them, you get out and say ‘what the hell is that thing doing here,'” he said.

Kilgore said he called the Maine Department of Transportation’s highway department, but says his called bounced around to a number of MDOT employees before he gave up. The transportation department, however, has no records of that happening.

Kilgore said he then contacted state Rep. Thom Harnett, D-Gardiner, who said he spoke with Meghan Russo, the legislative liaison to the department, who said any removal project may fall to the town.

Paul Merrill, transportation department spokesperson, said the two median islands were installed during a project started in 2010 by the transportation department on Maine Avenue. He said feedback at a preliminary meeting led engineers to use islands to “improve safe ingress and egress to these side streets.”

Merrill also said that between an initial inquiry about the traffic islands from the Kennebec Journal on June 16 and another contact made June 30, he had “been in touch with several MaineDOT staffers who would have been involved had a selectman (or anyone for that matter) contacted us about a concern like this one.”

“No one had been contacted prior to your inquiries,” he said. “Also, no one at MaineDOT would suggest he contact his legislator about a traffic safety measure like this one.”

On July 1, Merrill said he spoke with Kilgore, who told Merrill that he tried to leave a voicemail for Russo, but never heard back. Merrill said he spoke with Russo, who did not find any messages from Kilgore in her records.

“There is no record of any contact by Mr. Kilgore except a May 26th email from Rep. Harnett,” Merrill said in an email. “I called Mr. Kilgore back to tell him this. When I asked him if he left a voicemail, he told me he ‘tried to.’ I asked him if he did, and the line went dead. I called him back and got his voicemail.”

Kilgore said Monday that his phone’s connection was poor during the conversation with Merrill on July 1. When asked to respond to the fact that the transportation department had no record of him contacting the department, Kilgore maintained that he attempted to leave a message for somebody. “Whether it got there or not, I don’t know,” he said.

The transportation department did respond to an inquiry made by Harnett, Merrill said, and he provided an email sent to the state representative from Russo on June 5. That email said removal of the islands would be outside of the scope of work that is now ongoing on Maine Avenue.

“The current project involves milling and filling the travel lanes only. We are currently not planning to mill into the intersections, where the islands are located,” the email stated. “We can certainly discuss this possibility with the town further, but this additional work would be something the town would be responsible for, financially.”

Kilgore balked at the notion of local taxpayers having to pay to remove the islands, and thought the work should be done alongside a paving project that the DOT is currently doing on Maine Avenue.

“They’re the ones that put (them) in, why should (we) be the ones when they pull them out?” he said.

A car turns Wednesday from Maine Avenue, near the traffic island, onto Park Street in Farmingdale. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Kilgore said the problem with the Kennebec Drive island could be exacerbated in the future by a condominium development in Hayford Heights, the neighborhood that sprawls a fair distance west of a large portion Maine Avenue.

Robert A. Skehan, director of the transportation department’s safety office, said the purpose of the islands is to clearly delineate travel lanes, channel traffic at the intersection and to discourage turning traffic from cutting turns too short and cutting off other vehicles.

When asked if the islands could cause problems for plows or other vehicles with low clearance, Skehan said islands were “intended to discourage driving over them” and designed so vehicles can negotiate the turn without hitting them. He said a standard snowplow “should easily be accommodated by this type of design.”

Town Road Commissioner Steve Stratton said he sees the islands as a benefit for town residents and a hindrance for plow truck drivers.

“I think they’re a benefit to the older people because it gives them something to look for as far as where they are in the road,” he said. “The state put them in, and the state put them in for a reason.”

Stratton said plows hit the islands every snowstorm, but he has not heard complaints about the islands from E.C. Berry and Sons — the firm that is contracted to plow the Hayford Heights neighborhood.

“It could break the plow blade,” Stratton said. “They would probably like to see them gone.”

Everett Berry, owner of E.C. Berry and former road commissioner in Farmingdale, said the islands complicate a snowplow’s entrance to the travel lanes. He said plows often back up into Maine Avenue to line themselves up to fit down Kennebec Drive and Park Street.

“(It) should have never, ever happened,” Berry said of the islands being put in. “We’ve got to get just so to get in and get out of that damn stuff.”

Kilgore said he is motivated to get a proposal to remove the islands in front of the Board of Selectmen, but the town’s backlog of roadwork is so great that it would likely be a low priority.

“There’s so many problems with our culverts,” he said. “We’re scrounging for every nickel.”

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