ORLAND — A handful of this riverside town’s roughly 2,200 residents gathered at the Orland Community Center Aug. 29 to ask state Sen. Kim Rosen (R-Hancock County) for help with slowing speeding traffic on the road to Castine.
On the eastern bank of the Orland River, the center of Orland lies just to the south of Route 1 as it runs east between Bucksport and Ellsworth. The road to Castine, home to Maine Maritime Academy about a dozen miles to the south, is numbered as state routes 175 and 166 and runs from Route 1 through the heart of the village.
Over the past few years, the volume of traffic, and the speed at which it moves, has increased to the point, one resident told the gathering, that people are afraid to walk along the road from their homes to get their mail at the post office or go to the village store.
Last week, concerned residents who have organized an ad hoc group that calls itself Concerned Residents Advocating Safe Highways met with Rosen and Maine Department of Transportation traffic engineer Andrew Allen to discuss the speeding issue and explore possible solutions.
The consensus was that much of the problem was caused by Maine Maritime Academy students and staff, and by pickup trucks speeding to and from Castine. Buses carrying athletic teams visiting MMA also received a share of the criticism.
Co-chairman Dan Brooks said that some members of the group had already met with the Hancock County sheriff, the Department of Transportation, the Castine town manager, an MMA dean, the state police and “various politicians” to no avail. It was against that background that Rosen was being asked to help.
Many in the audience criticized the DOT both for widening the Castine Road — extensively improved in 2013, Allen said — and for raising speed limits along the road.
“It was always 45 (miles per hour) and 35,” one woman said. “Now it’s 50. What was the point? It encourages speeders.”
According to Allen, that isn’t the case. Statistics show, he said, that 85 percent of drivers operate at “prudent speeds,” and the speed limits were set after careful studies were done in 2009. To deal with the 15 percent who don’t requires better enforcement, he said.
There was considerable disagreement with the idea that the speed limits on the road were prudent, or that most drivers respect the speed limit.
“That’s bull,” said one audience member. “Everybody drive 7, 8, 9 miles (per hour) faster. Under 10 (miles per hour over the speed limit), the cops won’t stop you.”
Added Heidi Williams, who co-chaired the meeting, “The speed is 50 (mph) on Route 1. How can we have the same 50 on a county highway?”
Whatever speed might be prudent, there was considerable support for better enforcement on the road — though how that could be accomplished was unclear.
Peter Steward, director of campus safety at MMA and a retired state police commander, said that currently the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office and state police are already stretched too thin to provide much additional coverage to the Castine Road.
Allen said that “a lot of towns” had hired off-duty sheriff’s deputies to assist with law enforcement but, according to one member of the audience, Orland selectmen have said there is no money for that in the current town budget. Hiring an off-duty deputy would require an appropriation of funds at Town Meeting — a long way off and no certainty.
Technology might provide some enforcement help. Some jurisdictions use cameras that record the license plates of speeding vehicles and authorities can then send tickets to the vehicles’ owners.
Allen mentioned that Holland used cameras to enforce traffic laws and that “changes drivers’ behavior.”
Cameras may work, but a bill once brought up in the Legislature failed because of “privacy issues,” said Rosen, who co-chairs the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
“I don’t care about privacy,” one angry woman replied.
“They don’t seem popular with people in the state of Maine,” Stewart, the MMA security chief, said of the cameras.
“I could put in a bill to have one in Castine,” she said.
“You could come in and testify,” she told the concerned townspeople. “That would be very powerful.”
After further discussion, Rosen said she would return to Orland later in the fall and would draft a bill to create a “pilot program” that might encompass several towns.
“We can be the starting point,” she said.
After the meeting, Rosen said she hoped to file a bill by December before the new Legislature comes to Augusta in January. She said she would look at what steps other states have taken to deal with the issue of speeding in rural areas.
“It will be a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Rosen said.