Around 40 people joined the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) project managers and designers for a meeting at the Orono Town Office on Dec. 2 to discuss a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Rangeley Road and Park Street. This intersection is projected to see 13,000 vehicles per day in 2016.
This intersection has been a problem area for residents of Orono and Old Town, as well as commuting University of Maine students. From 2012 to 2014, there have been 24 reported crashes at the intersection, with most being rear end and “t-bone” crashes.
MaineDOT designer and engineer Jonathan French explained that the intersection’s critical rate factor of 3.6. The critical rate factor is the ratio of actual crashes to the expected number of crashes. The ideal critical rate factor is lower than one.
“You do have two different traffic flows,” French said. “We have to make sure the roundabout can accommodate that movement.”
As French explained, there is a fundamental difference between rotaries and roundabouts. While both are circular and move traffic counterclockwise, rotaries are larger, have straighter entry and have weaving within the circle. French said the overall crash rate is reduced by 75 percent in roundabouts.
The proposed $2.25 million roundabout would have two lanes and a number of extra lanes leading directly to and from the university entrance on Rangeley Road without using the roundabout. Being 150 feet in diameter, the roundabout would have 12-foot lanes and 8-foot shoulders.
The businesses on the intersection would undergo slight changes. Aroma Joe’s parking lot would have to be lengthened to accommodate deliveries. Bangor Savings Bank and All Town Market would lose all left turn access, but a secondary entrance to Bangor Savings Bank would be added to Rangeley Road.
Residents were mostly apprehensive of the new roundabout, especially a Park Street resident, who wished to remain nameless. She said that with the current traffic pattern, she can hardly get out of her driveway in the morning. Along with that, she said that increasing the flow using a roundabout would not solve the problem, only make it last for a longer time.
“A roundabout is not the answer to the problem,” she said. “We aren’t going to have a chance during the rush hours. It’s not an easy place to live, and you haven’t thought of us. It would be better to have a series of traffic lights. Give us a chance instead of going through all the trouble of roundabouts.”
Sophie Wilson, town manager of Orono, responded to the resident’s qualms, saying that the roundabout is not intended to fix the traffic problem, but rather quell it for the time being.
“There is not one fix that is going to solve everything,” Wilson said. “Likely, this will become a first step. I would just say that our staff has put a lot of input into the design.”
“We have a traffic issue,” Wilson continued. “I don’t think a roundabout and a series of traffic lights is going to solve it.”
Local cyclists were also worried that the design was not biker-friendly. The traffic flow and lack of bike lanes seemed daunting. Project managers said that they could easily traverse the roundabout by using the sidewalks and crosswalks, but cyclists wanted signage instead of “unrealistic” ramps and paths.
Paul Riechmann, an avid cyclist, said that he in support of the roundabout.
“This is the most dangerous intersection I deal with,” Riechmann said. “The traffic is coming at me from every angle, and I can’t keep track of it. They’re not watching for me. I’ve had a lot of close calls.”
Residents also were worried that the “predominant driver demographic” was not taken into account, in reference to the students of UMaine. MaineDOT officials were quick to say that they cannot design for people breaking the law or driving dangerously.
The project is scheduled to begin after Labor Day in 2017 and projected to be completed in 2018.