LEE -- Truck traffic is on the rise in downtown Lee -- a trend that's expected to continue -- and it is prompting regional planners to study ways to improve the flow of traffic along the town's Route 20 corridor.
From 2006 to 2011, the average number of daily truck trips has increased by nearly 18 percent from roughly Exit 2 of the Massachusetts Turnpike to the town lines with Lee and Lenox, according to a study by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. In 2006, the average number of trucks -- box trucks, tractor trailers, etc. -- was 6,527 a day; in 2011, that number grew to 7,695.
Meanwhile, all traffic -- including passenger vehicles -- in the same area has dropped 10.6 percent during the same five-year period.
While there are no recommendations yet to ease the truck traffic, the data could help planners come up with solutions to ease congestion and other inconveniences associated with it.
In addition, trucks in 2011, from delivery and service vehicles to tractor trailers, accounted for 11.7 percent of the overall traffic in the surveyed area, nearly double the region's historic average of 5.9 percent, according to regional planners.
"Trucks are between 6 percent and 16 percent of the average daily track at those seven locations," said Clete Kus, BRPC's transportation program manager.
Kus noted the BRPC conducted the truck traffic count during a one-week period in September 2011.
The truck traffic count was a follow-up to concerns Lee town officials and residents have had over the amount of trucks traveling through town, especially on Main Street. Regional planners said they will likely present the findings directly to the town, but a meeting date hasn't been established.
"The study does raise a yellow -- if not red -- flag [that] we need to mitigate traffic on Main Street, namely trucks," said Lee Selectman Gordon Bailey after Tuesday's MPO meeting.
"But there are economic issues to consider, especially if our closed paper mills get reused," Bailey added.
Based on national data, BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns expected Lee's truck traffic to increase, just not at the rate it did.
"National projections on truck traffic are worse as we go forward," he said. "We haven't started to see all the increase."
Karns made his remarks to the Berkshire MPO, which requested the study. The 10-member board consists of local and state officials who prioritize proposed road projects that receive federal and state funding.
A bypass of Lee's Main Street is one of several projects suggested in the past as a way to reroute truck traffic simply passing through the town center.
However, Karns says it's very premature to discuss solutions until the BRPC conducts a more thorough analysis of traffic in the Route 20 corridor in Lee and Lenox. The in-depth study could help find ways to improve overall traffic flow within the Route 20 corridor, Karns noted.
Politically charged solutions such as rerouting Central and North Berkshire-bound truck traffic via routes 102 and 7 in Stockbridge have been suggested, much to the chagrin of town officials and residents there.
Given the increased truck traffic's impact on the quality of life, Berkshire MPO member Ed Nardi of Tyringham feels doing nothing isn't an option.
"Breathing in Lee is going to get so bad," he said.
To reach Dick Lindsay: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6233.
Pumped up truck volume
The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission revisited seven checkpoints to update the truck traffic count along the Route 20 corridor from Exit 2 of the Massachusetts Turnpike to the Lee-Lenox town line. The survey was conducted Sept. 13-16, 2011, and compares truck traffic data taken five years earlier.
2006 2011 Change
Route 20 near Premium Outlets:
Route 20, just west of MassPike:
West Park, Marble streets :
Route 20, near Main, Center streets:
Center Street between High, Columbia streets:
Route 20 at Lee/Lenox line:
Route 102 at Lee/Stockbridge line: