BREWER – After listening to the concerns of several residents of the North Main Street and South Main Street areas, city councilors agreed Tuesday to refer the matter to city staff.
City officials’ decision to investigate traffic hazards on Main Street was prompted by a petition from North Main Street residents, who objected to several traffic perils there, namely excessive speed, tailgating and the use of so-called Jake brakes by tractor-trailer operators.
During their monthly meeting, councilors heard from half a dozen residents who attended to complain about noise and other traffic problems, particularly those created by tractor-trailers. The issue was raised by Councilor Larry Doughty.
North Main Street, which is part of Route 9, is a major transportation corridor to such Down East destinations as Calais, and an international gateway to New Brunswick. South Main Street, part of Route 15, is a major route to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Corp.’s trash incinerator in Orrington, as well as to points south to the Bucksport region.
Most of the residents who addressed the council said they objected to the noise caused by the use of Jake brakes and excessive speed.
The loud noise that results from Jake-braking, also known as motor braking or engine braking, has caused municipal officials in some Maine communities, Houlton and Dover-Foxcroft among them, to consider banning the practice.
Also known as dynamic brakes, engine brakes and engine retarders, the loud braking systems allow truck drivers to remove some of a truck’s engine cylinders from service by exhausting compressed engine gases out of the engine before they have a chance to force the cylinder back down and provide power to the drive shaft. By robbing the engine of power, the system slows the truck dramatically.
The systems are considered a safety feature by the trucking industry because they make it easier for trucks hauling heavy loads to stop, especially on hilly terrain. The devices also prevent excessive heat build-up in the brakes, which can lead to brake fading.
In the case of trucks that lack mufflers or use what are referred to as straight pipes, the release of built-up gas can be very loud, a nuisance in residential areas.
According to resident Richard Dixon, who holds a commercial driver license, if a truck is traveling at the legal speed limit, which varies from 25 mph to 35 mph along Main Street, there should be no need to use Jake brakes. Truckers, he suggested, should be made to turn the devices off while driving through downtown Brewer.
Velma Andrews, who lives on North Main Street, said she was concerned about pedestrians. While she has no young children in her household, her adult son, who is handicapped, lives at home with her. She worries about his safety while crossing the street “It’s scary,” she said, estimating some trucks’ speeds at as high as 65 mph.
Councilors agreed that the matter warranted further investigation.
“I absolutely believe that we need to do something,” said Councilor Manley DeBeck Jr., who said he could hear the racket from his Goupie Street home. Councilor Donna Thornton, who used to reside near North Main, agreed, as did Councilor Michael Celli.
Mayor Eddie Campbell, who owns a fleet of large trucks, noted that the Jake brakes could be turned off with the flip of a switch.
Among the recommendations that petitioners made in their quest to improve safety on the busy road are increased penalties, more patrol officers and an ordinance banning the use of Jake brakes inside city limits.
Police Chief Steve Barker said Main Street, especially the north end, has been the focus of stepped up patrolling. “We do take this seriously and we will address this,” he said. Nearly 300 hours have been put into monitoring traffic there in the past year, resulting in more than 800 traffic tickets on North Main Street alone.
City Solicitor Joel Dearborn recommended that the council refer the matter to city staff for review and recommendations. City Manager Stephen Bost said that barring any unforeseen snags, the staff could have a recommendation for the councilors to consider by as soon as their February meeting.