May 27, 2014
The Maine Department of Transportation increased the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on I-295 north of Tukey’s Bridge in Portland to mile marker 51 in Gardiner, which is most of the highway.
The number of traffic accidents on Interstate 295 between Falmouth and Gardiner jumped nearly 32 percent in 2015 compared with 2013, the last year before the speed limit was increased to 70 mph.
“It’s important to note, that while an increase in traffic volume on I-295 has led to more crashes, speed and driver distraction are also major factors,” says MaineDOT Chief Engineer Joyce Taylor.
My daily commute has been up and down this road for the past 18 years. The driver distractions are real, both with and without episodes of increased traffic congestion. One eye looks forward and one eye to the rearview mirror. And it’s not only the usual cellphones, computers and coffee. Sometimes drivers are observed reading newspapers draped over the steering wheel. Et al and etc.
The congestion problem cannot be fixed with speed. At 70 MPH, it takes 51.4 seconds to travel one mile. At 65 MPH, the same mile takes 55.4 seconds. That is only a 4 second difference times the 15 miles affected by the speed limit decrease. 4 x 15 = One Minute.
But the number of cars per lane will remain the same. Only and hopefully, will the severity of the collisions be reduced. Drivers will continue to be distracted for the reasons mentioned above. Drivers will continue to be annoyed and aggravated by congestion. The left passing lane will remain the travel lane with the right lane reserved for short exits and entrances.
The real problem has never been fully acknowledged or only obliquely addressed. Too Much Traffic for only two lanes in each direction. Then add a typical summer increase of 20% for tourist traffic. The road is at over capacity. The current solution, get the Maine Turnpike Authority to build a five mile connector between Scarborough and Gorham.
The warning signs are up. Most likely road crews will be out this week changing the speed limit signs. Extra State Police patrols will be on the highway to enforce the new the limit? Or not. That typically only increases the congestion as drivers will be merging to the single left lane to comply with the law to give public safety officials room for safety.
But the error remains uncorrected. This is only a faux end. The error remains in place and will only be corrected by third lanes in both directions from Portland to Topsham.