LENOX -- For many years, the Hubbard Street crossover on the busy, high-speed Route 7 & 20 limited-access "bypass" has been notorious for frequent accidents caused by line-of-sight challenges.
Town leaders are asking the state Department of Transportation for a solution such as installation of a barrier to cut off the east-west crossing at an intersection protected only by a blinking light.
"The Selectmen have made it very clear, rightfully so, they're expecting some type of progress before their next meeting on May 14," said Town Manager Christopher Ketchen. "It's a public safety concern. We're not going to solve everything in one or even several meetings, but to their credit, the Selectmen have made this a priority."
After meeting with Police Chief Stephen O'Brien, Ketchen spoke with the state DOT's District 1 Highway Director Peter Niles, based in Lenox, urging consideration of a barrier.
"He didn't say no," said Ketchen, adding that Niles is seeking a formal request in writing before pursuing the issue with higher-ups in Boston.
"We are aware of this suggestion but have not received any kind of formal request to close the median," MassDOT spokesman Michael Verseckes stated in an e-mail. "MassDOT will review the intersection to see if any other safety improvements can be made short of closing the median. If we do receive a request from the town to evaluate closing the median, we will study that and determine whether it is feasible."
He also wrote that the "crash rate" at the intersection is one-third below the "accepted" statewide average at "unsignalized intersections." MassDOT data indicated about 20 crashes since 2007, with half causing injuries.
The trouble-plagued crossover came to the forefront following an April 16 accident involving Select Board Chairman David Roche, who said his truck was totaled in an early-evening, two-vehicle collision that resulted in no injuries. He blamed the accident on the combination of a blind spot and sun glare as he headed west on Hubbard Street through the bypass intersection.
According to a list compiled by the police chief, there have been 18 accidents there since March 2007, including two so far this year. "Most have involved varying degrees of injuries, from severe to minor," he said.
"There's going to be another one," Roche warned, "unless we do something."
About 16 years ago, a motorist died in a collision at the site; a more recent, fatal one-car accident was attributed to winter weather.
Chief O'Brien, acknowledging "there's some type of blind spot there for the driver heading westbound on Hubbard," has recommended installation of a "jersey barrier."
If approved by the state, the modular concrete or plastic barrier would require westbound motorists on Hubbard Street to turn right and use the nearby Route 7A (Main Street) turning lane and signal for access to downtown. Eastbound traffic would be diverted south a short distance to Housatonic Street, where there's also a controlled signal and left-turn lane.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said on Friday that he has talked with Ketchen and Niles about the intersection. "It's been a problem as long as I can remember," he emphasized. But he urged caution on the idea of a barrier to shut down the crossover.
"I'm not crazy about that," Pignatelli explained. "I'd like to think that's a last resort. I might have an issue with it if I lived on Hubbard Street near the bypass. I would love to see how the residents feel."
He discussed other possible solutions such as cautionary signage or a warning signal on the side of the 55-mph highway, especially for southbound traffic.
"I would encourage the state to look at all options, including closing off the crossroad, but I hope the town doesn't buy into just that one option of the many available. Let's throw all of them on the table."
At the most recent Select Board meeting, Roche noted that the Selectmen were advised of the need for a solution in a letter from the police chief to Town Manager Gregory Federspiel on Aug. 6, 2008, the day after a collision caused serious injuries.
O'Brien detailed "a spate of motor-vehicle crashes within the past 30 days ... the similarities are noteworthy and a pattern has emerged. Most of these crashes involved injuries, often severe and sometimes fatal."
He wrote that drivers crossing the bypass on Hubbard Street "can fail to observe oncoming traffic or they fail to stop in the median and proceed directly into oncoming traffic. A simple fix would be to prevent cars from crossing all four lanes of the bypass."
Selectman John McNinch, noting that his wife was involved in a serious accident at the crossover six years ago, described visibility problems and a blind spot encountered by motorists heading westbound across the bypass, despite the removal of some trees.
"We called for a light then, but DOT [the Department of Transportation] turned us down flat," McNinch told the Selectmen recently.
"The chief has some definitive suggestions on what we can do there," said Roche. "Maybe we can look at it before somebody else is seriously hurt or killed. It seems to be a really dangerous spot."
According to MassDOT, about 17,000 vehicles a day use the Route 7 & 20 bypass, increasing to 20,000 in the summer. The Hubbard Street crossover is used by 750 vehicles daily, on average.
Danger by numbers ...
Here is the year-by-year count of Route 7 & 20-Hubbard Street
intersection accidents, according to records at the Lenox Police Department:
Source: Lenox Police, March 2007 through May 8, 2014.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto