How much is a human life worth in Warren, Maine? According to four of the five selectmen in Warren, not much.

At the most recent board of selectmen meetings in Warren, selectmen voted 4-1 to reject an offer from the state of Maine to install a flashing red/yellow light at the dangerous intersection of Route 90 and the Western Road. This intersection has been the scene of various accidents. People have been seriously injured and there have been several fatalities. In fact, there is still a pile of debris at this intersection from the most recent accident.

Recently, as Warren’s representative, I had asked the Department of Transportation if they would consider installing a flashing beacon at this location to help improve public safety. The district manager informed me that he would have the light installed at state expense as long as the town of Warren agreed to partner with the state. The state agreed to foot the bill, more than $10,000, for all equipment, installation, and labor costs and I quote the district manager: “The department was willing to fully fund the installation of the beacon and asked that the town be responsible for electric power to operate the beacon and its future maintenance.” The state simply asked Warren to accept the monthly power expense, about $20 bucks, and to accept responsibility for any future maintenance, mainly occasionally replacing a light bulb. I suggested to the town that they could also add the light to their insurance policy, which would cost roughly $100 per year.

The plan had the enthusiastic support of the fire chief and ambulance director, who both expressed a pressing need to improve public safety due to the multiple accidents and fatalities at this location. They informed the selectmen and me that each time there is serious accident at this intersection, Warren’s ambulance and fire department expends more than $500 in municipal funds, not to mention the expense sustained by the county sheriff for traffic control. If the safety light averted just one accident per year, it would more than cover the annual cost of operating the light. Since I expect municipalities to put public safety first, I was pleased with the state’s generous offer and fully expected the town’s selectmen to grab it. However, after a brief discussion and a concerted effort to undermine the proposal, the selectmen voted 4-1 to reject the proposal. Credit goes to selectboard Chairman Doug Pope, who was the lone vote in favor.

How could a government body turn its back on public safety given the deaths and injuries? The answer is politics, nasty local politics that has divided what used to be a warm and cordial community. Several of the selectmen who voted against this decent proposal were enthusiastic supporters of my opponent in the most recent election. Since reason couldn’t prevail on them and the finances around the project were difficult to argue, they did the one thing they do best, undermine the integrity of their own town. I once served this proud community as their town manager. It is truly sad to witness Warren’s current state of affairs: lawsuits, conflicts, recriminations, et al.

I repeat, the annual cost to operate this beacon is less than $500, less than the money Warren would save by simply averting one accident per year. How much is a loved one’s life worth in Warren? According to 4 of the 5 selectmen, not much; not as much as the cost of a couple light bulbs and the cost of the power to light them. And therein lies the tragedy, as this dangerous location lays in wait to claim another life. It doesn’t have to be this way. I hope the people of Warren take the time to reflect and think about this.

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship represents District 49 — the towns of Cushing, Friendship, Union and Warren.