Hundreds Gather in Augusta for 67th Annual Transportation Conference

AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Safety was the theme of this year's Maine Transportation Conference at the Augusta Civic Center.

Hundreds gathered Thursday to discuss a wide variety of topics from pedestrian safety to self-driving vehicles.

The 67th annual Transportation Conference attracted engineers, in and out-of-state construction firms, and municipal consultants to network with like-minded professionals and take part in several technical and policy discussions.

One panel discussed the transportation technology of the future and how it's being used in states across America.

"There's going to be discussions around autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, intelligent transportation systems, what different people have done. We've got people from outside, like from different states," said David Bernhardt, Commissioner of the Maine DOT.

Representatives from Colorado's DOT spoke on the advantages of self-driving vehicles and how the technology is starting to drop in price.

"There are now 20 states that are looking at this stuff so the equipment that they bought is now cheaper just because there's more states buying it," said Conrad Welzel, Co-Chair of the Transportation Conference.

Another topic of discussion--highway congestion and safety. Steve Landry, State Traffic Engineer with Maine DOT says the department has undertaken a safety study of I-295 and is looking into ways to improve safety such as adding lanes in between interchanges.

"We're looking at enhanced striping on the interstate that has much more reflective qualities at night and that provides a safety opportunity," said Landry.

"Through a collective approach we can go along way to improving the safety system-wide through the state of Maine," said Paul Godfrey, Vice President of HNTB, a construction engineering company.

"What we've been seeing in this state, you have a lot more traffic. We've hit records the last two years and what we're seeing is an uptick in crashes and fatalities," said Bernardt.

He says distractions among drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians is on the rise and the department its working on ways to redirect their attention to the road.

The holiday season in particular is a time they try to remind motorists to not drive distracted, impaired, or recklessly by using message boards during periods of bad weather or heavy traffic.

"'Santa Sees You When You're Speeding.' I think it's just trying to put a humorous spin on some safety messages to try to get it in people's mind. If you constantly tell people 'you're speeding,' you know they're going to take things one way. But if you try to get them to think about it in a different way, we're hoping that it has an impact," said Landry.