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New roundabout aims to improve unsafe intersection

Construction has finished on the roundabout at the intersection of Park Street and Rangeley Road. A notorious location for traffic accidents, the Park Street intersection has been a topic of discussion recently for many University of Maine students and members of the community.

As part of the state’s responsibility to assess locations with high amounts of accident reports, local officials decided a roundabout would adequately address safety issues, both for pedestrians and vehicles.

Jeff Aceto, the assistant director of capital planning and project management at UMaine, is responsible for managing capital construction on campus and has played an important role in the roundabout project.

“A project challenge for this intersection was the high volumes of traffic at peak times both in the morning and afternoon. Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) modeling showed that a signalized intersection would not be successful at this location due to significant stacking and delays during the peak traffic hours” said Aceto. “The roundabout was determined to be the best solution for this situation for minimizing delays, enhancing safety and accommodating future increases in traffic.”

Other factors are at play when planning a project like this. Due to the oversized load vehicles that transport wind blades to the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, project coordinators required the roundabout to be surrounded by a raised island to allow for the movement of large trucks.

A traditional roundabout is intended to create a safer and more efficient traffic pattern by eliminating the need for vehicles to cross directly through traffic, frequently resulting in more dangerous head-on accidents. In roundabouts, vehicles must yield to other drivers, which removes the need to cross traffic and keeps traffic moving in one direction.

For nearly three years, the Town of Orono has collaborated with the MDOT to plan and develop the project. Aceto noted that UMaine is also a primary stakeholder and donated over three acres of land for the project, which had an estimated cost of $2.5 million.

The University of Maine Police Department (UMPD) is one of the first responders to any traffic accident in the intersection.

“It appears to be going well,” said Sergeant Scott Curtis, suggesting that only a week into the semester conditions have rapidly improved.

Both UMPD and the Orono Police Department (OPD) have jurisdiction at the intersection and respond to accidents there, which, they said, have been minimal this year. However, not everyone has given the roundabout such a glowing endorsement.

Dylan Cunningham, a senior marine biology student and resident of Massachusetts, felt that a traffic light would have been a better alternative.

“Cape Cod, where I’m from, has many much larger versions of roundabouts called rotaries,” Cunningham said. “They have multiple lanes and much higher speed limits, resulting in a chaotic whirlwind of traffic.”

Cailin Darling, a senior biology student who was involved in a car accident in the intersection last fall, knows firsthand the necessity of new traffic safety measures, but agrees a roundabout may not be the best solution.

Darling’s main concern is the lack of experience some drivers in the area have with roundabouts and the danger that could potentially pose.

“I think once students figure out how to use [the roundabout], and the construction is finished, it will improve the situation,” she said.

Facilities Management is planning to relocate the UMaine granite sign that once rested near the intersection to an alternative location on Rangeley Road.

The official date of completion for the project was Sept. 30, and the intersection is now in full use.

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