Our Opinion: On to more pressing transit issues as Blandford exit nixed

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Construction of a Massachusetts Turnpike exit between Exits 2 and 3 has become a nonissue. Time to focus exclusively on other transportation options for the Berkshires.

At a town meeting June 27, residents of Blandford voted 79-63 in opposition to the exit addition plan that would break up the 30-mile stretch between Exit 2 in Lee and Exit 3 in Westfield. The state Department of Transportation had eliminated every option but the two sites remaining in Blandford.

"If they don't want it, it's time to move on," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, who had requested that a feasibility study be included in the 2017 state budget. ("Lawmakers agree: If Blandford doesn't want new Pike exit, case closed," Eagle, July 8.) His words were echoed by state Sen. Adam Hinds, and the DOT, which produced a 195-page draft study, has said it would not go against the will of local residents.

While the vote was fairly close, opponents of the proposal were always the most vocal. They argued that the new exit would overburden hilltown roads not designed for that much traffic and would disrupt the rural quality of life that caused them to put down roots in towns like Blandford and Otis in the first place. Proponents maintained that the new exit would attract business to the towns, boosting the tax base and providing jobs for the young people who are leaving the area.

Working against the proposal in the Berkshires was the study's conclusion that the exit would benefit Westfield more than Lee in terms of reducing traffic congestion. Then there was the matter of cost. The price tag was $30 million and $34 million respectively for exits off a maintenance facility and the service plaza.

Beacon Hill would be unlikely to come up with that kind of money for a project in the western end of the state given the transportation problems in and around Boston. The current pandemic related economic issues make it even more unlikely, and federal funding would be a long shot.

State and federal funding would be better spent at this point on passenger rail, both east-west and north-south. That has greater potential in terms of attracting business and visitors. The Massachusetts Turnpike is what it is, and is unlikely to ever be altered on its western stretch.

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