BELFAST, Maine — Thanks, but no thanks. That’s what Belfast City councilors told the Maine Department of Transportation this week regarding the agency’s suggestion to eliminate the Belfast “jughandle.”
The quirky traffic feature at the intersection of U.S. Route 1 and Northport Avenue in Belfast elicited strong reactions from readers, after traffic engineers identified it as a confusing safety issue and tried to place it on the chopping block. Engineers would rather replace it with a dedicated left-hand turning lane and even hoped to enter the design into a competition for federal safety project funds.
But after hearing feedback, most councilors couldn’t get behind the plan to junk the jughandle.
“This project, as presented, makes no sense to me,” Councilor Mary Mortier said. “The thing that comes to mind is, whatever happened to commonsense?”
To her, the best solution for that particular intersection, would be a rotary, but they “cost a lot of money,” she said. Short of that, the Maine Department of Transportation could do something simple — and cheap — to aid tourists and locals who are confounded about how to use the jughandle, a short right-hand loop road intended to prevent left turns across traffic, Mortier said.
“The signage as you are driving south to alert you to the jughandle is piss-poor,” the councilor said. “While I would like to be in the good graces of the DOT, I just don’t feel in good faith that I can support this project as presented.”
Some councilors signaled their general frustration with some of the decisions made by the Maine Department of Transportation. Councilor Mike Hurley said the basic issue has to do with the Route 1 bypass, which was built in 1962 to allow the busy coastal thoroughfare to circumvent downtown.
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Though locals might debate whether the bypass was a blessing or a curse, councilors said it’s undeniable that nearly 60 years later there is much more traffic putting pressure on the roads.
“The problem is not the jughandle — it’s the bypass,” Hurley said. “It was built at a different time. We have problems at every crossing. They need to look at the whole thing.”
In particular, councilors mentioned the intersections of routes 1 and 141, routes 1 and 3 and routes 1 and 52, but said their requests to the Maine Department of Transportation for help with these have so far seemed to land on deaf ears.
“For them to come to us now with this cheap solution … is kind of insulting,” Councilor Neal Harkness said. “I say, tell DOT we’ve got major problems we want addressed. We’re not interested in them throwing us a bone.”
But one councilor, Paul Dean, said the presentation made by the traffic engineers about the safety concerns at the jughandle made an impression on him.
“Safety is very important to me,” he said, just before casting the sole vote in favor of the department’s plan.