Driving around town, I've been noticing all of these signs up that read "Emergency Route" with some sort of letter or sometimes double letters attached to them. But I had no idea what they were for. So I called over to the Maine Department of Transportation, and they put me in touch with Bruce Mattson, the MDOT regional traffic engineer, who had plenty to tell me about them.

Mattson said these signs are the result of input gathered by emergency responders from monthly Transportation Incident Management meetings being held in the area. The MDOT took the information gathered at these meetings, and put together an Incident Management Plan, specifically for situations that could come up if Interstate 95 needed to be closed down.

Emergency Route Sign 1
Cori Skall

The way it works is this: Say there's a big accident on the Interstate, and emergency responders need to shut down part of it. They would contact folks at the MDOT, who would then remotely activate those big signs along the highway, which would then let motorists know which one of the emergency routes to follow, so they could avoid the accident area and not get held up in traffic.

If they have to shut northbound lanes down, the signs will have a single letter. Double lettered routes will be flashed if the incident involves a Southbound closure. As drivers exit the interstate, there will be other signs directing them along the appropriate path around the incident sights, making it safer for both motorists and the folks working on the scene.

Emergency Route Sign 3 Cori Skall

Mattson says the signs started to go up at the end of March, beginning of April this year, from Pittsfield to Lincoln. He said for most of the state, they're pretty straight forward, but in the Bangor area, things get a little trickier because of all of all of the intersections  and such. Mattson told me all the signs installations should be finished, statewide, by the end of this summer.

Ironically, the inaugural test run of the new system came in the beginning of April, when a Maine State Trooper was involved in a deadly accident on the side of the interstate. Mattson says they had to shut the interstate down so that reconstructions could be done. He said the system worked very well during that situation, and served its purpose; to help people find alternate routes of travel in when emergencies happen along the interstate.