Unnecessary delays

Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials had to scramble recently to address massive traffic tie-ups on Route 3 in Trenton due to a malfunctioning traffic light at the intersection with Route 204.

Like most modern signals, the units are controlled by computers activated by sensors in the pavement. Problems developed when the timing of the light went off kilter and began holding up vehicles on the busy highway in favor of the less-used side road. As the number of light cycles increased, the backups got longer and longer, especially in late afternoon when commuting workers from major employers on Mount Desert Island return to their mainland homes.

The temporary solution, after days of traffic being backed up several miles at peak commuting times, was to put the light into flashing yellow mode.

While that eased delays for Route 3 drivers, folks from Lamoine wishing to exit Route 204 still endured extensive delays the from high volume of traffic on Route 3.

First and foremost, why did it take the MDOT more than a week to act? Was nobody assigned to monitor the new light, and how it was performing, in its first busy summer season?

Second, there apparently were no available replacement parts to repair the light’s malfunctioning computer “brain.” Finding the necessary parts took more than a week.

With hundreds of traffic lights all over Maine, that the MDOT doesn’t maintain a sufficient level of spare parts to make quick repairs challenges one’s imagination. Route 3, southeast of Ellsworth, carries more than 14,000 vehicles a day in the warmer months. Regular drivers of that road know all too well that it is near or at capacity many times during a summer day. Even a minor traffic accident or malfunctioning traffic light can cause delays that affect hundreds if not thousands of drivers.

If this particular traffic light is so unique that a replacement can’t be located quickly, why wasn’t a more reliable and easily fixed model installed in the first place?

Over the past few years, the MDOT has made substantial improvements and major investments in our area roads and highways. Work on the long-awaited Route 3 redo in Bar Harbor begins in earnest this fall. For all that investment, residents here are unquestionably grateful. But those responsible for making sure traffic flows smoothly once construction is complete might want to consider ways to reassess their response-rate capability, especially in high season.

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