Lawmakers agree: If Blandford doesn't want new Pike exit, case closed

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NOTE: This story has been updated to include comment from the state Department of Transportation and to correct the status of a DOT report.

From the start, "no-build" was an option, as planners explored the merits of adding an interchange along a nearly 30-mile, unbroken section of the Mass Pike.

With a 195-page study recently complete, residents of the Hampden County town of Blandford just took the off-ramp.

Their vote in town elections June 27 effectively ends consideration of a new Pike interchange. "If they don't want it, it's time to move on," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

The abrupt end to consideration leaves a small mountain of data collected by a state Department of Transportation team and its consultants. The feasibility study was included in the 2017 state budget at the behest of lawmakers like Pignatelli, whose constituents had asked for years about the possibility of a new exit —and whether the region could benefit from easier access to I-90 between Exit 2 in Lee and Exit 3 in Westfield.

The DOT study had narrowed the choice to two locations in Blandford — a service plaza and a DOT maintenance area.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said he agrees that Blandford's vote settles the issue.

"It is difficult to imagine a project that requires close involvement of local, state and federal laws, requirements and resources going forward without each of those elements on board and active," he said.

Blandford residents were asked this question: "Do you favor construction of a new exit on the Massachusetts Turnpike in the Town of Blandford?"

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While 63 said yes, 79 said no.

"We weren't prepared for a victory," said Jane Pinsley, who lives with her husband, Bill Missimer, on a former blueberry farm on North Street near the Blandford Service Plaza and opposed the project. "We're thrilled out of our heads."

"The people of Blandford have shown that they value the quality of life in the country town — and that it is worth preserving," she said.

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A possible Algerie Road interchange in Otis, within Berkshire County, was eliminated from consideration last fall, ahead of the December publication of the DOT draft report.

Lynne Hertzog lives near the Algerie Road site and was happy when it was eliminated. She's also pleased to learn the proposal for a Blandford interchange will be dropped.

"I'm thrilled. I'm very happy that there's a finish," Hertzog said Monday. "It would be bad for everybody in the area. Blandford isn't that far away. It would have been intense."

Hertzog is following news on another transportation project that both Pignatelli and Hinds are tracking: a proposed resumption of passenger rail service. She prefers that option.

"The turnpike would have promoted car traffic when it seems as a society we should be getting away from cars," she said.

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Vote timing

Pignatelli said he recommended that the town's Select Board schedule the vote to coincide with the presidential election this November, in an effort to hear from the largest number of residents. The board opted to place the question on last week's ballot. "As their representative, I support their decision," Pignatelli said of the date of the vote.

"Now we have an answer. They don't want it. The town weighed in, and they weighed in with the facts," he said, referring to the deep dive taken into environmental, social and economic elements of the feasibility study. "I think it is wrapped up. Blandford was ground zero."

The DOT study, completed in February, puts the matter back in the hands of lawmakers and residents. The study's conclusion takes up just two paragraphs at the end of a 195-page report.

"In order for an interchange project to advance into more detailed design and permitting, the involvement of local and regional stakeholders is essential," it says. "The advocacy of residents, state legislators, local officials and planning departments ...  will be critical to gathering support and securing funding for the project’s advancement."

Pignatelli said that it was the Legislature, not the DOT, that got the ball rolling. He confirmed that the department itself is not advocating for a new interchange.

"The ball was in the town's court," he said of Blandford. "And the town gave the answer."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


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