|Part 2: Lack of funds, bureaucracy make improvements difficult|
|Tuesday, 06 September 2011 00:00|
People who live near the intersection of Winter Street and Route 53, regarded by many as one of the most dangerous in town, crowded into the Mural Room at Town Hall to hear a proposal from Mass Highway engineers.
The officials were proposing a roundabout, a circle designed to slow down traffic, that they said would help reduce the number of serious accidents at the spot. Neighbors were optimistic about the plans, with many saying some kind of intersection improvement was overdue.
That was in October of 2009. The intersection remains as treacherous as ever, with a blinking yellow the only signal telling drivers on Route 53 to watch their speed.
Some of the reasons for the delay are economic – the state simply doesn’t have the money to construct this as well as other highway improvements around the state. But making changes to roadways is a complex process that requires working with a large state bureaucracy, and Duxbury officials are learning that they have to make their voices heard in Boston if they ever want to see improvements.
TIP of the iceberg
Few large-scale road improvement projects are taken on with only town funding. State and federal money come into Duxbury for road work in a couple of ways. State Chapter 90 money is appropriated every year, and is based on the amount of accepted roadways in town and the number of people employed within Duxbury’s borders. (See chart below.) This money, according to state statute, can be used for maintaining, repairing, improving and constructing town and county ways and bridges. The town spends it, and it is reimbursed by the state.
More involved projects, however, are funded through the Transportation Improvement Project list, better known as the TIP.
The TIP is a list of highway projects, and includes bridge work, traffic lights, highway widening and resurfacing and even the construction of bike paths. In most cases it involves federal money as well as state funds.
A breakdown of projects being funded in the federal fiscal year 2012, available on the state’s Web site, does not include any projects in Duxbury – although there are many in District 5, the Mass Highway district that covers Duxbury. However, there are a number of Duxbury projects on the TIP, in various states of completion.
Some of the projects, such as road resurfacing on Route 3 in Duxbury and Hingham, and tree trimming on Route 53, have already been completed. But others are in the “design” phase, according to the Department of Transportation – including the roundabout at Route 53 and Winter Street.
The town has a few advocates when it comes to getting funding for roadway projects. Town Planner Tom Broadrick is the TIP representative for Duxbury. He attending meetings in Boston, on Thursdays every other week, and says it’s a place where you have to stand up and be heard.
“You’ve got to go to their meetings and advocate for your project,” he said.
Even figuring out which office to plead to can be tricky. If a project is being funded with “private” money - either by a developer as part of a project or something entirely funded by a town – it is handled by the Department of Transportation office in Boston. If it’s something that involves state or federal money, it’s handled by the district office – District 5 in Taunton, for Duxbury.
The planning authority that Duxbury belongs to, MPAC, stretches all the way up to Gloucester and includes Metro Boston. The major problem standing between Duxbury officials and the completion of the Winter Street/Route 53 roundabout is money – there simply isn’t enough to go around in these tough financial times. Duxbury is the southernmost community out of 101 cities and towns in MPAC, and when funding is limited it’s tough to convince the state to throw some of those limited dollars in Duxbury’s direction.
Roundabout we go
Broadrick and Paul Brogna, the co-chairman of the town’s Highway Safety Committee, both say the top project on the docket is the roundabout.
“Our number one project in terms of priority is that Route 53 and Winter Street intersection,” Broadrick said.
Each year the committee votes the three intersections they believe most need to be looked at, and sends that list to the state. For the past several years, the names have remained the same – Winter Street and Route 53 as the top priority, then Bailey’Corner (the intersection of Tobey Garden Street, Chestnut Street and Tremont Street) and Cox’s Corner (the intersection near the former Millbrook Motors.)
In October of 2009, MassHighway Engineers John Diaz and Mike Papadopoulos came to Duxbury Town Hall to present preliminary plans for a roundabout at the intersection.
Diaz said that there are complaints about traffic at the crossing, but that’s not the reason MassHighway decided to take on the project.
“This project is more of a safety issue,” he said. “There are not a lot of breaks in the traffic to safely make it across [coming from Winter Street].”
The problem, he said, isn’t so much the number of accidents as the frequency, which is much higher than similar crossings.
“We’re looking at this as a traffic calming measure,” he said.
The term “traffic calming” is often used to describe roundabouts. They are different from rotaries in that they will narrow traffic by dropping a lane, and are angled so that drivers slow down upon approaching the circle. At this particular intersection, engineers hope to slow traffic coming up Route 53 – down to 25 mph, said Diaz.
Residents at that meeting were encouraged.
“This has been an inconvenience for a long time,” said Don Christenson. “You can’t cross the street in three minutes, there’s always something coming.”
“The traffic on that intersection’s got to be slowed down,” said Don Sjostedt.
Some people were worried about infringement on their properties, but Diaz said except for some temporary construction easements, the roundabout would be built within the existing right of way.
Papadopoulos told the crowd design would be complete by fall of 2010, with construction finishing by the fall of 2011, at a cost of around $900,000, paid for by the state. Yet no further hearings were held, and it’s now the fall of 2011 and no work has been done.
The project remains at about 75 percent design completion, but because there is no money for construction, the state is reluctant to finish the design process.
Money is the main reason for the project’s stall, but earlier this year, Duxbury lost a powerful advocate when it came to roadway improvement. Joseph Shea was chairman of the Highway Safety Committee for many years, and he had contacts in the state that he would lean on to make sure Duxbury’s projects got attention on Beacon Hill. He was a major factor in pushing for the Exit 11 roundabout, at Lincoln and Congress streets (see sidebar) and he brought the idea of the Winter Street and Route 53 roundabout to the selectmen a couple of years ago.
“He was a good one to have for us,” said Broadrick. “He had connections.”
Safety committee local advocates
The Highway Safety Committee is Duxbury’s other link to the state in terms of roadway improvements. It is a town committee, reporting to the Board of Selectmen, that Brogna described as an “initial listening point” for residents who may have traffic or roadway-related concerns about town.
Brogna and Jeff Lewis are co-chairmen of the seven member committee, which includes engineers and representatives from the police and fire departments.
“It’s a good cross section of experience and common sense,” said Brogna. “It works.”
Police Chief Matthew Clancy praised the group, saying that every town doesn’t necessarily have such a committee as a sounding board for traffic and safety issues on the roads.
“I think that’s a fantastic forum,” Clancy said.
Brogna has been on Highway Safety since 1988, and the committee existed for a few years before that. The group meets on the first Thursday of the month at the Emergency Operations Center at the Tremont Street fire station.
The group consults on large projects around town. They’re now tackling traffic flow on the fire station expansion, new police station and the proposed new middle/high school. But they are also approached by citizens who have a concern about their neighborhoods.
For example, the committee was recently approached by a group of citizens who want to see an additional stop sign at the intersection of Vine Street, Cross Street, Union Bridge Road and King Phillip Path. According to accident data analyzed by the Clipper, there have been only two recorded accidents, both with no injury, during the period of 2005-2008. But fender benders with no police involvement or less than $1,000 worth of damage are not catalogued, and neighbors are concerned about the speeding and near misses.
The Highway Safety Committee will listen to residents’ concerns, then gather information for about a month, Brogna said. There are some things the committee can ask (through the selectmen or Town Manager) the Department of Public Works to do right away, such as tree trimming or limited signage, such as an “Intersection Ahead” sign. More serious changes, such as a stop sign, may be under the town’s purview, but the committee will check with the state. A new stop sign will only be approved if it’s the best possible solution, Brogna said.
What the committee does not have much control over are things like speed limits. Duxbury’s default limit is 30 miles per hour, and 20 for a school zone, but some roads like Tremont Street and Route 53 go up to 40-45 mph. Another road item that is set at the state level is the dotted yellow lines that indicate drivers can safely cross into the opposite lane to pass. Brogna said his group can “make suggestions” when the state repaints the lines, but they don’t have much local control.
“There’s a lot of things we end up doing,” he added. “We take very seriously the safety protection that’s required here.”
Waiting for fixes
Other than Winter Street and Route 53, the other two priorities on the Highway Safety Committee’s list are Cox’s Corner (the intersection of Route 139, and Route 3A near the Marshfield line) and Bailey’s Corner (the intersection of Tremont Street (3A) Tobey Garden Street and Chestnut Street.)
During the Clipper’s review of crash data provided by Mass Highway from 2005-2008, Cox’s Corner stood alone as the most dangerous intersection in town. There were 25 crashes there during the period studied, including at least six where someone was injured (four reported accidents did not include injury data.)
A solution for that intersection isn’t obvious. Police officials say the angle where the streets meet causes side impact-type accidents, and some residents suggested that tree trimming (such as the bushes in front of the former Millbrook Motors) would improve visibility. Although the Highway Safety Committee has asked the state to look at the crossing for years, it isn’t on the TIP, and there’s no plan for any kind of signal, additional signage or any other traffic improvement.
Bailey’s Corner is another often-mentioned intersection when residents discuss troublesome spots around town. It’s not the intersection with the most accidents – 12 during the study period, two reported with injury. But it is a place where, despite Duxbury’s pride in being a “one stoplight town” (Tremont Street and West/St. George), some residents have clamored for a traffic light.
There is a blinking yellow hanging about the crossing now, but residents say it’s not enough. Lou Tretakoff organized a petition in 2004 pushing for a light, and he said it only took him three weeks to gather 1,300 names.
While the intersection doesn’t have a lot of high speed crashes, Tretakoff has a different perspective.
“A traffic light is for traffic,” he said. He pointed out the number of cars registered in town has doubled over the past 10 years, and when he originally proposed the light, the state measured the traffic and found that Bailey’s Corner has the second most traffic after Route 3’s Exit 10 on the Kingston line. He believes the lack of a light creates serious traffic problems – people coming from Tobey Garden Street can’t see traffic coming from the right, and cars trying to cross Tremont from Chestnut Street can wait a long time before there is a safe break in traffic.
Bailey’s Corner, interestingly enough, is on the TIP list, but not for a light . The project is described as intersection improvements – highway reconstruction, minor widening, and it’s in the design state. But neither Broadrick nor Brogna knew what that entails.
One of the other major highway projects on the Transportation Improvement List might mean Duxbury will go from a one stoplight town to a four stop light town, as three new traffic signals are planned for the Route 3 on and off ramps on the Kingston line near Exit 10.
This potential project came to light as part of the Island Creek Village expansion last year. As part of the comprehensive permit approval process, the developers at Island Creek agreed to pay for the design of the light near the entrance to their complex. Three lights in total are planned, one at Island Creek, and one at each on/off ramp.
Exit 10 is an area that sees a lot of accidents, 26 from 2005-2008, including nine with injury.
Brogna, who worked with the Island Creek development team, said the lights are at 25 percent design, but as with the roundabout, the process is stalled because there’s no money for construction.
The waiting game
It’s hardly a news flash that getting things done in Massachusetts – or any state – requires some political wrangling. But the reason things aren’t getting done in Duxbury is simple: there’s no money. Until the economy improves, and transportation money begins to flow from Beacon Hill down to the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, major projects like the roundabout at Route 53 and Winter Street, or the traffic lights at Exit 10, will continue to stall. And drivers heading through Cox’s Corner to the beach, or trying to turn left on Tremont Street at Bailey’s Corner, will continue to face dangerous driving conditions.