Stockbridge voters to decide whether safety upgrades needed at 2 downtown crossings
STOCKBRIDGE — Does anything need to be done to improve safety at two key downtown intersections targeted by the state because of a high accident rate?
Reflecting apparent deep division in town on a detailed traffic engineering report by a town-hired consultant, the Select Board voted 2-1 last week to let residents decide at the May 20 annual town meeting. They'll vote on whether to approve a $132,000 preliminary design study by VHB of Springfield, which has recommended consideration of a roundabout at the Red Lion intersection of Routes 7, 102 and Pine Street.
VHB traffic engineer Juliet Locke also suggested a reconfigured T-intersection at Routes 7 and 102 by the firehouse just east of the business district, as well as safety improvements along Main Street.
"How are we moving forward with the traffic study, if at all?" asked Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon as he launched a vigorous discussion on a previous proposal to spend $250,000 for a more detailed engineering study of next steps and various alternatives.
Town Administrator Danielle Fillio noted that the $250,000 option would lead to a 25 percent design threshold required to win funding approval by the state for the project.
"I think almost everyone agrees something has to be done," Chabon said, focusing on the less costly $132,000 option offered by Locke, a 10 percent design threshold, according to the state Transportation Department's guidelines for potential state-funded traffic projects.
That option lists $35,000 for a survey and development of a basic plan, $25,000 to explore with a citizens' group up to five project alternatives, $15,000 for a safety assessment, including a road safety audit, $15,000 for project meetings and coordination between the town and MassDOT, and $12,000 for pavement testing and design.
Additional costs cover preparation of the preferred 10 percent design plan, environmental studies, historic assessments, a project review committee and an allotment for roadway traffic counts, police details and other expenses.
Chabon stressed the importance of a citizens commission working with the VHB engineering firm to come up with solutions "that at least a majority of us are happy with."
"I'm very much enthused by this," he added. "There's a lot of opportunity here to get some things done."
But Selectman Terry Flynn, a vocal critic of the potential roundabout solution, objected. "I'm not trying to be insulting, it's just the nature of state funding and the engineering industry," he said. "This is trying to hang on to a project."
Instead of spending $132,000, he said, "the next logical step is the first we never took: to simply have a road safety audit done by MassDOT on the main intersection that led to the whole question in the first place." He was referring to the Red Lion convergence.
He advocated "taking safety steps right now that are not super-expensive or involved." Flynn proposed painting "appropriate lines," marking crosswalks, use of electronic signs "and some strategy to shrink the intersection a bit."
"Do those so as to not commit the town meeting to increase our budget this year, and find out if these things work," he said, adding that "an awful lot of people do not feel that there's a huge problem with this intersection."
Flynn proposed exploring off-street parking possibilities instead of speeding up traffic flow along Main Street to the potential detriment of local merchants.
He also complained that "no one has yet studied" actual Police Department reports over the past 18 months to map out the exact causes of recent accidents.
"The most recent accident was caused by somebody who was texting and went right through the stop sign," Flynn said. "That's a whole different matter than the intersection being a problem. How can you say you've studied the intersection if you haven't actually looked at the accidents that supposedly are the problem?"
He suggested that the actual problems might be "frustration, hesitation, the lack of flow."
Chabon responded that a 10 percent design costing $132,000 is "a reasonable path."
Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo agreed, saying that "it would give us all the answers we need. This addresses everything and it gets the townspeople involved. Let the town meeting vote on it, up or down. If this thing works out one way or the other, we move ahead. We're not pushing this on anybody. Let the town decide."
Chabon and Cardillo then voted to put the preliminary design proposal on the annual town meeting warrant, with Flynn opposed.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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