Lenox seeks barriers at site of fatal crash

Attendees at a Lenox Select Board special meeting applaud the board's decision Wednesday to ask the state to close the intersection at Hubbard Street and Route 7/20 for public safety.

LENOX — Concrete barriers are expected to go up within days at a hazardous intersection along Route 7/20, the site of frequent accidents, after town leaders voted unanimously Wednesday to request that the state intervene.

The Select Board acted at a special session, minutes after hearing emotional pleas from a packed Town Hall meeting room. People urged officials to seek to restrict access to the busy state road at Hubbard Street.

The junction has been the site of frequent accidents, including one that killed Pittsfield artist Wendy Rabinowitz on Dec. 11.

Rabinowitz's two adult daughters and her husband, Jeffrey Borak, joined those who urged town officials to act.

"Closing it sounds like the right answer," said Joanna Munson Perales, Rabinowitz's daughter. She spoke after half a dozen area residents cited hazards of the Route 7/20 intersection, which, unlike several other crossings in Lenox, with full traffic signals, is marked to through travelers only by a flashing yellow light.

"It means so much to be able to hear what everyone has to say," Munson Perales said.

The board's vote directs Christopher J. Ketchen, the town's chief administrative officer, to ask the state Department of Transportation to close off the median in the four-lane highway at Hubbard Street north of the town center.

Select Board member Ed Lane said DOT officials told him that, other than placing barriers, they see no other way to improve safety in that intersection — and stand ready to act.

"They could do it as soon as we ask them to do it," Lane said. A DOT communications official said the department would provide information Thursday on how it will proceed.

Rabinowitz's car was struck as she tried to cross the highway. Borak, her husband, is arts editor at The Berkshire Eagle.

History of crashes

Lenox resident Tom Romeo said he and his wife, Dianne, have responded many times to crashes at the corner. They also detailed their concerns and recommendations in a letter to the board.

Romeo stood to say that even if closing the crossover causes some inconvenience, the step is needed.

"For me, that's much less than having the fatalities that are there," Romeo said.

"There is absolutely nothing worse than hearing the horn and the screeching of brakes," he said, and then waiting for the sound of impact.

"Close that intersection once and for all," Romeo said. "It's just a terrible intersection."

Another resident, Mary Jane Mattina, told board members she traveled the area Wednesday to take a fresh look at the problem. She came away convinced that the median area between the north and south lanes needed to be closed to crossover traffic.

"It's a minor inconvenience, compared to the people who are injured, or who are dead," Mattina said.

Roberta Russell, speaking through tears, told officials that as she grieves for her friend, Rabinowitz, she views action as urgently needed.

Board member David Roche reminded the audience that he survived an accident at the same intersection. He and other panel members praised those who came out Wednesday to appeal for safety improvements.

"Your words didn't fall on deaf ears," Roche said. "And I hope you are pleased with the action we take."

The intersection, Roche said, "has been a thorn in our sides for years."

Since 2007, the site has seen as many as 30 accidents, including several fatalities. Previous efforts to improve safety came up short.

Board member Neal Maxymillian praised those who came to speak. And he echoed Lane's belief that the DOT is poised to restrict the crossover area.

"Within a matter of days, which would be in the form of some barriers," he said.

Warren Archey, a board member, joined Maxymillian and other colleagues on the board in thanking those who detailed their concerns Wednesday.

"This is a dangerous intersection," Archey said. "I have called in accidents I don't know how many times. It is basically a nightmare."

The board's vote brought applause.

"I can't believe how fast this was done," Mattina said. "This should be an example."

Request sent

Ketchen said after the meeting that he planned to email the request later Wednesday to Francisca Heming, chief of the DOT district headquarters — which stands less than a mile north of the junction.

The concrete barriers would be positioned to block crossover traffic where Hubbard Street crosses Route 7/20 from east and west. Ketchen said that DOT officials will decide how to deploy new safety measures.The idea also calls for barriers to be placed to close off the turning lanes of the highway that travelers use to turn left off the road onto different segments of Hubbard Street. People approaching the road from the west will still be able to turn right and head south toward Lee; similarly, vehicles coming toward the road from the east will be able to turn right to go north toward Pittsfield.

Ketchen credited state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, with setting up a meeting between town officials and Heming last week. Once the DOT indicated support for closing the crossover road, the Select Board called the special meeting, which required 48 hours of public notice.

Pignatelli attended that meeting, along with Lane, Ketchen and Police Chief Stephen E. O'Brien.

Come spring, the concrete barriers in the turning lanes on Route 7/20 would be removed and those lanes eliminated, Pignatelli told The Eagle in an interview this week.

As the vote neared, Borak rose to praise Lenox officials for acting to improve public safety, saying their resolve "would be a perfect testament to my wife."

"It needs to be done as quickly as possible before any more lives are lost," Borak said.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.