MOUNT DESERT — For drivers who have sat in traffic backed up on Route 102 through Somesville, the planned right-turn lane and related improvements at the traffic light intersection will be worth every penny of the $500,000 they are expected to cost.
The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) has the project tentatively scheduled for spring 2017.
The turn lane will be about 200 feet long, which officials say should accommodate at least 10 cars. The lane will be 11 feet wide with a two-foot shoulder and a rebuilt sidewalk.
Aurele Gorneau, the MDOT project manager, and Liz Bissonnette of Kleinfelder, the engineering firm that is designing the project, held a public meeting last week in Northeast Harbor to present their preliminary plans and answer questions.
The line of northbound traffic crawling through Somesville is typically longest in mid to late afternoon on weekdays in July and August when boatyard employees and others in Southwest Harbor are getting off work and there are a lot of tourists on the road.
Dave Sweet, who lives in Northeast Harbor and frequently drives to Southwest Harbor, said the turn lane would help, but the biggest problem with the intersection is the timing of the “dumb” traffic light.
“Coming home to Northeast between 3 and 5, I’m backed up to Beech Hill Crossroads half the time,” he said. “The other half, I’m backed up to the Somesville fire station.
“Once I get to the crest of the hill and can see the light, there will be six cars coming from the north, four cars coming from the east and 300 cars behind me.”
Gorneau and Bissonnette said they would look into whether the timing of the traffic signal needs to be adjusted.
The turn lane project will include installation of a pedestrian traffic signal. Pedestrians wishing to cross Route 102 will be able to push a button, and a digital display will tell them how many seconds they have to cross. There also will be an audible signal for the visually impaired.
“It’s the policy of the [MDOT] to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act when we’re doing improvements,” Bissonnette said.
With the new signal and sloping curb cuts for wheelchairs, “You’ll have a safe, accessible crossing there,” she said.
The flag pole and plantings that the Somesville Village Improvement Society installed at the southwest corner of the intersection will not be affected by the addition of the turn lane. But it will encroach on a sliver of private property.
“There is going to be a need for some [property] acquisition,” Gorneau said.
He said the current plan is to put the project out for bid next October and to award the contract in December.
“The contractor would do their planning over the winter and start construction in the spring of 2017,” he said.
Construction is expected to take six to eight weeks. The estimated cost is just over $500,000.
“The project is being funded through the [MDOT] with federal and state dollars,” Gorneau said. “The funding is already in place.”
Officials in the town of Mount Desert rejected an earlier effort to add a turn lane at the light when other island towns declined to comply with a request that they contribute toward the cost.