Police, firefighters and ambulance personnel responded to High Street Oct. 4 after a pickup truck crashed into a pole supporting traffic lights. The crash, and then a temporary traffic light setup that proved problematic, caused traffic delays on High Street and other nearby roads over the course of two days. PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER

Crash, droopy lights lead to “gridlock nightmare” in city

ELLSWORTH — A crash that knocked a set of traffic lights out of commission and a replacement set that then drooped too low caused what the city’s police chief called “gridlock nightmare” for a time on city roads last week.

The low-hanging lights were fixed with a sturdier, but still temporary, solution the day after the crash. How long it will take for a permanent replacement to be put in place was unknown as of Tuesday.

The center of the traffic tie-ups was at the main entrance to the Maine Coast Mall on High Street. On Oct. 4 at around 3 p.m., 80-year-old William Estes of Otis was headed south on High Street when, according to police, he “appeared to have some sort of medical event.”

That caused Estes’s 2013 GMC Sierra pickup truck to go up onto the sidewalk in front of U.S. Cellular. The truck went back into the road for a time, still headed south, and then went off the road to the right and hit a pole supporting three traffic lights in front of First National Bank.

The pole and mast arm supporting the lights were knocked askew by the impact of the truck. Estes was taken by County Ambulance to Maine Coast Memorial Hospital after the crash for treatment of injuries the police described as non-life-threatening and is said to be doing well this week.

“He’s fine,” Ellsworth Police Chief Glenn Moshier said Tuesday. “He had no really significant injury from the crash.”

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, southbound traffic on High Street was diverted down Foster Street to Water Street. That caused backups on those three streets, especially as the workday drew to a close, but also on other side streets such as Washington as motorists attempted to find their own way around the gridlock.

Ellsworth Public Works and crews from R.F. Jordan & Sons Construction Inc. worked to stabilize the damaged pole. City police and firefighters were joined by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office and Maine Marine Patrol in directing traffic.

Late on the night of Oct. 4 and into the next morning, utility crews from southern Maine arrived to remove the damaged pole and put a new, wooden one in place (with lights hanging from wires instead of mounted on a mast arm).

That caused problems later on Oct. 5 when the lights hanging from the new pole drooped toward the road. The lights were too low for some vehicles to pass under, and traffic was once again rerouted for a time.

Moshier said the ground gave way under the new, wooden pole, which caused it to sink into the ground. He said officials suspect the pole was inadvertently placed on top of an old storm drain.

Moshier said Tuesday there is “no word yet” on when a new, permanent metal pole and mast arm may be put in place.

The backup on multiple streets caused by an incident at one intersection underscores the nature of the traffic environment in Ellsworth, Moshier said. When something happens on High Street, there are only so many other places the cars can go.

“We don’t have any secondary road that can really accommodate the flow that we see at peak hours on High Street,” he said.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.