Forest St. residents want traffic fix on fast track

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WESTBROOK — Forest Street residents have raised concerns for years about speeding, high traffic volume and even cars hitting houses. Last week they said they’re tired of those concerns going unaddressed.

Maria Huntress, who lives at 282 Forest St., said the response from the city has always been “we will look into it,” but the concerns and issues still remain. Many of problems are with the intersection with Rochester Street, neighbors said.

“This is a residential neighborhood that deserves a better answer and a more effective solution,” she said. “My hope is that there will be less meetings and data collecting, and more faith in the residents who express the ongoing concern that it is a dangerous intersection, a fast moving street and regardless of whose responsibility it is, it is the responsibility of all, now being duly contacted, to ensure the safety of the people who live on and use these streets.”

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said at a meeting of the Public Safety Committee March 18 that traffic issues on Forest Street, a popular shortcut between Stroudwater Street and the Cumberland Mills section of Main Street, have plagued the neighborhood ever since he started as administrator in 2002.

“Their concerns have not gone away and there hasn’t been a lot of significant changes that have helped,” he said at a meeting of the Public Safety Committee.

Installing speed bumps, as was done on Pierce Street several years back, has been suggested several times over the years to control speeding. Ruddley Emerson, a resident of 288 Forest St., said speed bumps could be installed temporarily to test their impact.

Speed bumps, he said, would force drivers to slow down and “deter vehicles from trying to make it a raceway.” 

A non-engineered speed study the police department conducted Nov. 28-29, 2018, found that close to 83 percent, or 1,035, of the 1,249 vehicles that passed through were going faster than the 25 mph posted speed limit. The average speed, was 29 miles per hour, with one vehicle traveling more than 50 mph.

Speeding, however, is just one of the neighborhood’s concerns. The amount of traffic also is a worry. Rebecca Dillon, who has lived at 222 Forest St. for 20 years, said she has seen “a significant” increase in traffic. Citing state records from 2016, the latest year available, Dillon said the daily traffic on Forest Street was 3,150 at the Main Street end and 3,520 at the Rochester Street end. By comparison, she said, Brook Street by the intersection with Route 302 saw 3,600 vehicles a day.

The issue of traffic on Forest Street is a familiar one for Colleen Hilton, who heard many complaints about it during her seven years as mayor and who grew up on Forest Street, where her parents still reside.

“Our police department does an outstanding job trying to manage the speed and traffic all across the city, but the harsh reality is that traffic is moving too fast on all of our streets and distracted drivers are everywhere,” Hilton said. “I do think some re-engineering of the intersection of Forest and Rochester (streets) is worth exploring as is the consideration to add stop signs – maybe at the Cottage/Forest Street intersection. Mimic what’s been done on Monroe (Avenue).”

Emerson said the Rochester intersection “is poorly designed” and nearby house porches and parked cars are in danger of being hit. His parked car was slammed into by a drunk driver in 2012, he said.

Emerson said additional stop signs, which was also suggested by Councilor Lynda Adams at the meeting, or a speed radar sign “just seem like a patch and not the resolution.”

Huntress has also seen damage to her property due to errant drivers.

“My house has been hit by a car,” she said. “On another occasion my car parked in my driveway during the day was hit by a car that came across my neighbor’s front lawn from the intersection.”

Huntress said errant vehicles have also hit and killed a dog.

“Regardless of data taken, if you live, walk, ride your bike, run or use this street, you know how fast drivers go, you know how dangerous this street can be and at the end of the day, what is most important is that the concerns are heard and met with a better answer than ‘we’ll schedule a meeting’ ….’we’ll talk to DOT.'”

City Engineer and Public Services Director Eric Dudley said the city is working with the Maine Department of Transportation to reclassify the roadway from major collector to minor collector, something the department is looking into all across the state. 

Bryant said in an interview last week that a reclassification, should that happen, will not change the function of the street – it will continue to be a shortcut – but it may open up some new traffic mitigation options.

The committee agreed to wait to see what the options are when, or if, the road is reclassified, and reconvene at that time.

Now is the time to address the issue, Dillon said, because with the Rock Row development nearby and Forest Street continuing to be a popular cut-through between Main Street and the schools on Stroudwater Street, the problems she and her neighbors have been seeing on their street are “only going to get worse.”

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews

Residents on the southern end of Forest Street say their concerns about speeding and other traffic problems have largely gone unheard by the city.

Residents along Forest Street feel speed bumps like the ones installed on Pierce Street may slow down traffic along the roadway, which is used as a cut through between by the Cumberland Mills section of Main Street and Stroudwater Street.

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