GREAT BARRINGTON — A little more than two weeks after the latest crash in front of Monument Mountain Regional High School, representatives of the state Department of Transportation again were before the Select Board on Monday to discuss safety at the intersection.

And again, those representatives pushed back on the notion that a red light is necessary. Select Board member Leigh Davis wasn’t having it.

This time, she came armed with a statement from the mother of a student involved in the May 5 crash at the intersection, pleading with officials to take action so a fatal crash “does not have to be the price we pay for a traffic light.”

Loretta Tenuta’s daughter was attempting the notoriously fraught left-hand turn to the southbound lane of state Route 7 when she was struck by a northbound vehicle, according to police. The girl was not injured, and the driver of the other vehicle suffered a broken hand.

But, Francisca Heming, the DOT’s District 1 highway director, said two studies of the intersection show that it does not warrant a full light.

“There is no engineering reason to justify it,” she said.

Monument Mountain School Traffic

A line of cars backs up as drivers try to turn southbound on Route 7 leaving the school at the end of the school day Tuesday. Department of Transportation engineer Patrick Tierney said the agency's refusal to put in a light has nothing to do with expense or an attempt to keep traffic moving. He said there isn't enough traffic there to warrant it.

Signals don’t change driver behavior, Heming said, noting that plenty of drivers run red lights, and he pointed out that there are lots of crashes at signals. Instead, she offered a new type of flashing stop sign, one that has not yet been installed in Massachusetts.

DOT engineer Patrick Tierney said the agency’s refusal to put in a light has nothing to do with expense or an attempt to keep traffic moving. He said there isn’t enough traffic there to warrant it, and “we don’t like to set that precedent.”

The dispute comes five years after a 2016 accident previously rekindled attempts to push for a stoplight at the entrance to the school on a section of fast-moving state highway with multiple turn lanes and a blind spot.

Instead, the DOT reduced the speed limit to an advisory 35 mph in the school section of the 55 mph zone, and installed flashing lights.

That crash, the sixth there since 2014, also prompted police to reroute school traffic, shifting some student drop-off traffic to the nearby elementary school to reduce congestion and chaos at the high school entrance. Police since have removed officers from the morning rush because it was too dangerous.

There have since been two additional accidents: a minor collision in October 2019, and the May 5 crash.

The Zoom meeting was thick with frustration from those in attendance, including local and school officials, state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli D-Lenox, as well as Police Chief Paul Storti, who has worked to solve the problem for at least a decade.

“We’ve talked and talked, but here we are again,” Storti said to Heming and Tierney. “It’s not black and white. There should be some gray area, and you should be able to analyze [the situation] for what it is, where it is ... and how it affects the community.”

That talking is set to continue. The board voted to request a new meeting with DOT and local highway officials, Pignatelli, state Sen. Adam Hinds D-Pittsfield, Gov. Charlie Baker’s regional representative and police from the three towns in the district.

‘They don’t get the timing right’

Peter Dillon, superintendent of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, explained the problem for inexperienced drivers exiting the school, where cars in a southbound turning lane into the school obscure southbound traffic.

“They don’t get the timing right, and they don’t see the second car,” he said, adding that two school staffers have made an instructional video to help students navigate it. He also said that speed limit enforcement lacks teeth, since it only advises slowing.

Monument Mountain School Traffic

As school ends Tuesday, students and teachers leave for the day. Instead of putting in a stoplight at the intersection of state Route 7 and the school's driveway, the Department of Transportation reduced the speed limit to an advisory 35 mph in the school section of the 55 mph zone, and installed flashing lights.

The district has entertained fixing the problem on its own with an internal driveway, but cost estimates have run close to $1 million. Complicating this is a long delay getting the school into the state’s queue for money to renovate or rebuild the deteriorating building, during which the problem could be solved. Dillon suggested that the state might agree to it this fall, as the district reenters the applicant pool.

Action from state agencies takes time. And that was one reason why Pignatelli said other options should be explored. He wondered whether there is a mechanism that could trip the existing flasher to turn red, and reworking the turn lane.

“Maybe a couple more Band-Aids will avoid an accident until we can come up with a permanent solution,” he added.

Davis, who continued to press Heming, noted how quickly the DOT acted to block a Route 7 crossing at Hubbard Street in Lenox within days after a woman was killed there 2018. The DOT since has closed the crossing, which was the site of 30 crashes since 2007, and several deaths.

Davis said that officials, including herself, will be to blame if the worst happens.

“It’s going to be on all our hands; it’s going to be on everyone that’s in this room right now,” she said. “We cannot wait for a death to catapult us into making a decision.”

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871. On Twitter

@BE_hbellow.