OXFORD — Police Chief Jon Tibbetts said he is satisfied with the outcome of a meeting last week – between local and state officials and others – which will lower the speed limit at the Oxford Casino/Route 26 intersection and eventually activate the signal light.
State Department of Transportation officials agreed during a site visit on Wednesday, Aug. 23, to activate the street light at the Oxford Casino intersection on Route 26 and take other safety measures following the recent deaths of two pedestrians and the injury of two motorists at the busy intersection.
Local and state officials and others, including representatives from the Oxford Casino and Hampton Inn, met at the intersection to strategize ways to make the busy area safer.
“People are going to wait a bit, but I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Joyce Taylor, chief engineer for the Department of Transportation, at the site visit. The activation may not happen until next spring, she said.
To initiate the safety improvements, Taylor said the DOT will reduce the speed in an area about 400 to 500 feet north and south of the intersection. That could happen as soon as two to three weeks.
Taylor and DOT traffic engineer Steve Landry said the next steps will be to design an American Disabilities Act-compliant pedestrian walkway with lights that count down. It would probably be installed with a center “refuge” for pedestrians who might get caught between lights.
“We don’t want to turn on the lights and just have people cross,” said Taylor. “They may be sitting ducks.”
The price tag is not firm but could run between $150,000 and $300,000, said Taylor. The DOT has agreed to chip in one-third of the cost if the other two-thirds are picked up by others such as the Oxford Casino and Hampton Inn and the town of Oxford.
It is anticipated that the remaining safety improvements would not take place until next spring or summer depending on if the money is appropriated, how soon the specs can be developed and the availability of electrical contractors.
On July 25, two businessmen from Rhode Island were killed when they tried to walk across the intersection from the Oxford Casino to the Hampton Inn where they were staying after being struck by a pickup traveling north just before 11 p.m.
Two people were sent to the hospital on Aug. 12, when an Oxford Casino shuttle and a car collided at the same intersection as the shuttle attempted to cross over to the hotel to pick up guests.
Taylor and Landry, along with DOT legislative liaison Meghan Russo, met on site with state Representatives Kathleen Dillingham and Lloyd “Skip” Herrick, state Sen. Jim Hamper and Oxford officials including Town Manager Butch Asselin, Police Chief Jon Tibbetts, Lt. Mike Ward, Fire Chief Gary Sacco and members of the Board of Selectmen Chairman Pete Laverdiere, Ed Knightly and Scott Hunter. Also attending the meeting were Oxford Casino General Manager Jack Sours and Sarah Stace, general manager of the Hampton Inn.
Taylor and Landry said they will return to their office and brainstorm on other possible safety measures, including blinking lights that may slow drivers down as they approach the reduced speed lanes.
“Our job now is distracting the distracted driver,” said Taylor.
Tibbetts, who worked with Dillingham to set up the meeting, has advocated for improvements to the intersection, which he said is a poorly designed intersection in a 50 mph speed limit zone.
He has asked for better lighting, a pedestrian crossing – either by activating a street light or putting up pedestrian crossing signs with lights that flash when a button is pushed by a pedestrian and lowering the speed limit to 40 mph.
Landry said she was surprised at the increase in traffic since she had last been in the area and expects the area would have reached the traffic count threshold for a new light by November with the expected opening of the Oxford Casino 107-room hotel.