Great Barrington to close Lake Mansfield Road to traffic

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GREAT BARRINGTON — After years of study and debate over the decaying state of Lake Mansfield Road, town officials have decided the time has come to close the road to traffic.

The Select Board on Monday voted 4-1, before a packed Town Hall, to shut down the two-way road to all vehicular traffic between the boat launch and the beach, except for the several homes and a pool club on the road. It will also be open to emergency vehicles.

All those details will still have to be worked out, said Town Planner Christopher Rembold. And there will still be a cost — about $600,000 according to a 2014 report by engineers. That's about half the cost of other options that keep the road open to traffic.

"It is the least expensive solution," Rembold said. "It is not a no-expense solution because the lake edge would still have to be stabilized."

The condition of the road has weighed heavily on town officials and residents for at least a decade, as the pavement crumbles into the lake, damaging a delicate ecosystem. It is also a dangerous situation for drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and fishermen. Drainage problems cause freezing, breaking apart the pavement, which is then repeatedly patched as the cycle continues. The heavy use of salt to counter this is harmful to the ecosystem of this 29-acre glacial pond, which is connected to a 29-acre forest with trails.

A 2014 engineering report laid out various complex scenarios that included making the road a one-way at a cost of about $1.1 million. A full road fix would cost about $1.2 million, and environmental permitting would be elaborate, according to the study.

The full closure was recommended by the Lake Mansfield Improvement Task Force.

It was new board member Leigh Davis who pushed the board to swiftly act in favor of the task force's preferred option.

"It could be a centerpiece for Great Barrington," said Davis, who lives near the lake. "Let's look ahead and be forward thinking and not be afraid to take this leap."

Board Chairman Stephen Bannon voted against the motion to close the road, preferring it remain open as a one-way.

"But I can see both sides," he said.

The room was divided on the decision. Many residents were opposed because the road bypasses Main Street and serves as a cut-through to Fairview Hospital on the south side of town.

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"I've got a sick husband, and I'm up there in age and need access to the hospital," said Catherine Kilmer, who lives on Dehon Road, which connects with Lake Mansfield Road north of the lake.

Resident David Ryel said the more than 500 cars that travel the road daily would be pushed onto Main Street, stacking up traffic there. Rembold countered that those 500 cars won't really affect Main Street, on which 20,000 to 25,000 vehicles travel daily.

And Rembold and others explained that the road would eventually have to be closed if nothing is done, and that short-term solutions to fixing it won't last long and will be expensive.

A handful of residents put in a plug for nature and recreation at a beloved treasure in town.

"This is really about the environment and people — it's not about cars," said Sharon Gregory, who lives nearby on Hollenbeck Avenue, noting that it is an important place for people to be outdoors and gather. During winter, the lake also is a draw for ice skating and fishing.

Gregory also said that people using the road as a cut-through are speeding on connecting arteries in this residential neighborhood.

"There are little kids fishing all the time, and older people fishing," she said. "There are mothers pushing their strollers ... we have to do the right thing for people and our resources."

"Trees are falling off that edge, dying off that edge," said Dale Abrams, speaking of shoreline conditions. Abrams lives near the boat launch.

Yet George Guerrero said he had collected 1,000 signatures on a petition to keep the road open as a two-way thoroughfare.

Rembold told the board it needed to make a decision promptly so that the town could apply for grants. He said the road would not be closed immediately, and that the timeline for this would depend on grant applications and funding.

Christine Ward, coordinator of the task force, said the recommendation to close the road was made after "considerable debate."

"It's important to remember our mission," said Ward, who for more than a decade has been pushing for a solution. "To protect the health of the lake."

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


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