WELLS, Maine — It's something we are taught as children: take your turn.
Now, residents and visitors in Wells and Portland are going to have to do just that when they drive. A merge design called an alternate merge is being installed in both communities, and it is the first of its kind in those locations causing some confusion among drivers.
It is a simple enough idea -- instead of one lane merging into another, the alternate merge combines both lanes into one, with drivers from each lane taking turns to merge. But it may be easier said than done.
Carol Murray is the Public Works Director in Wells. She said after opposing pavement arrows had been painted on 109 at the intersection of I-95, off of exit 19 in Wells, on August 22, even road crews were confused about what they meant.
"When I first saw it I was like, 'I don't know what that means.' I'd never seen it before," Murray says.
Murray says she and the Town Manager have been fielding calls from residents who don't understand the opposing arrows or don't like them. But Murray explains the project is not complete. Signs that both have a picture of how drivers are supposed to merge and the words ALTERNATE MERGE, TAKE TURNS has yet to be installed but is expected to go in any day.
The new merge project in Wells is a joint project between the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Turnpike Authority. DOT engineer Steven Landry says the merge is really nothing new. There are around 20 such merges across the state going back as far as ten years.
Landry says the alternate merge is just another tool to help utilize both lanes of a merge. According to Landry, every place in Maine that has had the merge installed is working well, including two locations in Augusta, one near the State House and one on Western Ave heading toward Manchester.
But the alternate merge may not be something everyone has seen --in part because not all states use it; it is not part of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD). The MUTCD is used by traffic engineers and has been for 84 years, with annual updates to define standards used by road managers nationwide, so that whether you're driving in Alaska or Alabama, pavement markings and signs look the same.
Landry says the alternate merge was something MaineDOT thought of as a way to reduce congestion and slow traffic and that they can use tools that are not in the MUTCD as long as they have verbiage explaining them.
Paul Blouin's business is on Western Ave in Augusta, right where drivers alternate merge. He says there has always been congestion on Western Ave as drivers head out of Augusta to Manchester -- but he thinks the alternate merge has improved the situation. Blouin also says it is simple to understand.
Carol Murray says she wants to see how the merge works when the signs are installed before passing any judgment.
"There has been a lot of upset from folks who say, 'take it right out, it shouldn't be there.' It would be nice to see it and evaluate it to all fairness to Maine DOT and the town," Murray says.
Murray explains it is going to take drivers being patient and courteous for the alternate merge to work, but she doesn't think that is impossible.