Letter: Consider Main Street concerns and attend tonight’s state hearing

by beth on June 18, 2014

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.

John Butler expressly points out this letter is his personal opinion and does not represent the Advisory Committee, of which he is a member.]

To the Editor:

I urge residents to attend the State Hearing on Main Street on Wednesday at 7PM at Trottier and consider voicing these serious concerns to the State plan to reconstruct Main Street.

  • The plan is headed in the wrong direction for the economic values of the Town. The “rural character” of the Town’s appearance is a key basis for the Town’s higher residential values compared to surrounding communities. This is not an imagined luxury. It is basic competitive marketing. Every broker driving a home buyer takes them through Town center, “See, this is Southborough”. If we work to enhance that appearance, which it needs, we increase the value of all our homes. If we let the State build a homogenized look of a highway, adding a calculated 70% more pavement to the intersection, cutting down dozens of mature trees along the route, then we risk damaging our distinctive position in the market hurting our principle asset: our residential values. We need to repave, and if we have an eye to our real Town economics we will keep it as beautiful and historic as possible, which the State won’t allow if they are paying part of the costs.
  • Worse, this plan doesn’t succeed even on its own terms. According the DPW’s own expert’s report (VHB dated June 2) after we add four turning lanes into Town center, take private land from the Community House and St. Mark’s, we get only 8% traffic capacity increase compared to today’s existing roadway at peak hours. That’s their own admission regarding their own biggest roadway design with four added turning lanes, not my data. We shouldn’t jeopardize our Town’s appearance with 70% more asphalt right in our Town center for only an 8% increase in traffic capacity. Why take such big risks for almost no gain. Personally, I think that given that I495 and RT9 can supply infinite traffic to this 2-lane road, the modern traffic-aware least-time routing by GoogleMaps and others will result in constant-time queues, so there will be no time savings at all for traffic. They didn’t consider those effects. But, since their 8% is so close to my 0%, who’s counting?
  • The existing Board of Selectmen’s Main Street Committee was not asked to pose the fundamental question: “Is this a good idea?” According the Chair, as agreed upon by the Committee on Monday night, “We are not voting on the project as a whole. That is not part of our charge.” They worked terrifically hard at their task, however, we the citizens do need to make that decision and say clearly to the State: “We don’t want 70% more asphalt in Town center for 8% improvement in traffic flow at peak, and we don’t want to pay for your risk of cost overruns” (keep reading.)
  • DPW should get enough money to repave Main Street, but, until we see consistent better judgment coming from that department, I don’t think it is prudent that DPW should be working a project of this scale.
  • This project is a highway to nowhere, or more precisely, a new highway leading to the sidewalk in front of Mauro’s Market. The new highway ends just to the west of Mauro’s Market in the middle of Town, because no one can figure out how to “highway-ize” past Mauro’s front door. We should not ignore this. We should repave all of Main Street, without the interference of the State, not end an enhanced highway in the middle of Town.
  • There is no unusual cost issue for doing the repaving ourselves. In fact, it is less risky financially (keep reading). High cost is a fiction that has been put forward by those who want to scare you into letting the State and DPW make an asphalt mess here. This section of Town road is less than 1/60 (1.6%) of all the road we maintain in Town. We maintain all 60+ miles of roadway on less than 1% of our annual Town budget. Main Street, all of it, needs to be repaved. If you drive any of the recently paved local roads, Latisquama for example, you can see what is done when we fix a road with our own funds. Do you remember being told any scare stories about the cost of maintaining the other 63 miles of road here? Of course not.
  • Here’s the big budget risk: If there are cost overruns on this State project in excess of 10%, the Town gets hit with 100% of the excess costs. Those costs would be uncontrollable, in that we could have no choice but to pay the excess under our contract with the State to finish the project. Of course, now, before it starts, they say that this project won’t have a cost overrun. Have you heard that before on State highway projects? Do you want to sign on for your tax dollars to pay uncapped cost overruns from a State highway project, or do you want to keep the Town in charge of its own costs for this 1 mile, as it does for all other 60 miles of roadway here? Which is more controllable?

Please note that I respect all the work that the Board of Selectmen have put into this, but sometimes people get stuck in bad ideas. It is good that they have pushed this hard. But, it is clear now that they have just gotten far down the wrong path, and someone needs to stop this bad plan, the sooner the better. We don’t want this overblown project in our Town that, on their own estimate helps traffic flow at the key juncture by a mere 8%, and leaves us holding the bag for State cost overruns. Wednesday evening is our next best chance. As always, these opinions are mine, not those of any other person, committee or group, and I submit them respectfully for your consideration. Please attend.

John Butler

1 mike June 18, 2014 at 9:58 AM

agreed

2 Mark Ford June 18, 2014 at 10:18 AM

Thanks John. Well articulated and reasonable…I am surprised to learn that the Main Street Committee wasn’t charged with an overall assessment of the project.

Also, any marginal gain we might see in overall capacity will be eaten up by an increase in traffic. “Induced demand” is a well-documented outcome of any road expansion.

(http://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffic-induced-demand/)

3 Anna June 18, 2014 at 10:49 AM

I always enjoy reading John’s perspective on the issues but I do have to differ on this issue. In the case of this project it is not just x% traffic improvement that is being talked about. It is also about the safety issues caused by the failing intersection. As a town resident who has to drive through it on a daily basis, it also has to be about other unsafe impacts of the lack of turning lanes. Every day getting through there is a different stressful adventure depending on the combination of indecision or aggressiveness of the other drivers. Having a more standard intersection would help to alleviate this nonsense. I think that the improvements will look fine based on seeing what has been done elsewhere such as Wellesley but we do need to commit to replanting the trees.

We are not alone as a town in this issue except for some residents sense of overconcern about change in my perception. I still feel that at the end of the day it will look just fine but work much better. Yes it is a lot more asphalt but I’ve seen a lot of these changes elsewhere before because I have to drive quite a bit. Other communities have gone through this and it has worked out to be better both aesthetically and ergonomically. I think that these type of improvements on our south side at Southville and Cordaville/River St have been a big net positive and look fine.

Another local example is Sudbury’s center. Sudbury is currently beginning its construction process of adding turn lanes to its town center which is the heart of its historic district. It is a similar situation as we have where the area has significant backups at various times, and bad turn issues all of the time. It is a smaller project due to less road being repaved but the intersection issues have a number of commonalities. Driving through right now, they have begun to move centuries old stone walls. That community has agreed to make improvements to the intersection despite it being possibly an even more historically sensitive site.

Attached are two links about the Sudbury project. The first is a basic overview brochure, the second a comprehensive report. I hope that the perspective helps in the realization that we are not alone as a community in having to make these type of choices, but that these choices are necessary.

http://www.sudbury.ma.us/departments/PCD/doc8513/2013TownCenterTrafficBrochure.pdf
http://sudbury.ma.us/departments/SCIAC/doc4149/FinalReportMarch08.pdf

4 John Butler June 18, 2014 at 4:44 PM

What we have learned, and should have known, is that there is no solution to the traffic problem. The advocates for this are telling us that if you are today in a line of 12 cars at the light in the morning, then in the first year after construction you will be in a line of 11 cars (8% better). (I don’t know about you, but 11 looks a lot like 12 to me.) Then each year the line will get two cars longer until after 5 years it is back to 12 again. After five years however we will still have the 70% more asphalt, permanently, and it will be 35 years before the trees are back to anything resembling what they were. That’s bad enough, but I think it is worse. The reality is that the traffic planners are like Borders before Amazon hit. Every I495 commuter with a smartphone is going to have GoogleMaps doing least-time routing including traffic delays for them. Traffic-delay routing is just coming on now. This means that where supply is infinite, as it is between Rt9 and 495, traffic delay times at this intersection will be constant, managed for the Town by GoogleMaps.

This is a stepwise problem. The first step is to get the State highway department out of lives here. We don’t want to be holding the bag for their cost overruns. Only the State is crazy enough to plan to spend $6.5 million to gain 8% throughput and build a highway that dumps onto Mauro’s porch. Please, lets stop this madness. After we get rid of that, then we can think about what’s right for us, how to improve safety, etc. Safety and rural character can go together, fortunately, because “rural character” can signal, “go slowly” while real safety improvements exist in ways that don’t signal “go fast.” That’s what we need to work toward, but must do so without the State constraints.

5 Peter Quirk June 18, 2014 at 12:26 PM

As I noted in a comment on the events calendar:
Here’s a timely, good article about the ways we traditionally go about trying to mitigate traffic jams, with fruitless results. Highly relevant to the discussion of the merits or otherwise of widening Main Street and adding filter lanes.

http://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffic-induced-demand/

Peter Quirk

6 Mike June 18, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Honestly Anna, I don’t want Southboro to be Sudbury or Wellesley ever. I mean ever. Every area of town has its bones of contention with travels noise and sports etc. These types of intersections only increase traffic , speed iand through fair. Predominately Sudberry in Wellesley people are extremely extremely unhappy and rude people. I work there I interface with the people there and they’re very very unhappy folks so we don’t want our town to look like Sudberry and Wellesly.

7 native June 18, 2014 at 4:18 PM

With all due respect, if I wanted to live in Sudbury or Wellesley that’s where I would be.

Having lived in Sudbury for many years and still having the need to travel through Sudbury on a regular basis at different times of the day, I can assure you that the long, long list of intersection improvements have not made congestion there any more bearable since the 70s.

The rt 27/Concord Road intersection in Sudbury that is under consideration in my view will remove whatever charm the town center once had.

As it relates to our intersection in the center of town, I have seen nothing about:

1. Modifying the lights so that there is a delayed green that allows the intersection to clear turning traffic at peak hours.

2. Expanding the “box” and pulling back the stop line from the intersection that would allow the trucks and busses to better negotiate the intersection.

Have I missed this part of the discussion?

Thank you to Peter Quirk for sharing the Wired article. Well worth the read and complements the idea that the wider the road the more comfortable people are and the faster they drive, and the growing awareness that the more careful people feel they need to be, the more care they take.

Once you build it you can’t undo it. If we clean up what we have we can always build it bigger later.

8 SouseBro June 19, 2014 at 2:33 AM

I thought Algonquin gave me a great education, but this has me stumped. If a road has 12 cars in line, you just reconstruct the road and that brings the line down to 11. I’d love to see that study. But my problem is: Each year thereafter, that line will get 2 cars longer, until after 5 years, you are back to 12 cars again. I kinda take any other “fact’s” with a grain of salt.
And please, stop comparing this to Sudbury. That area is land-locked with all types of businesses, and there are many hundreds more drivers heading into Boston than here, of course it’s congested, have you checked out the Big-Dig lately? And Anna, I’m with you. When all is done, let the Southborough Gardeners do their magic…

9 Neighbor June 19, 2014 at 10:37 PM

I have to agree with John regarding the “road to nowhere”. This will be a major highway that just stops at Mauro’s Market, unless the folks on East Main Street would like to have their quiet and peaceful rural road widened and opened up to through traffic travelling at 35 miles per hour. Of course, it would probably put the new sidewalks where there are mostly front porches today, but maybe they could throw that in the plan to finish things off. Well, maybe not….

A few other facts worth noting:

The most recent traffic studies showed that traffic has actually decreased on Main Street over the last 4 years. For those of us that live near downtown (defined here as east of rte 85) we know there are no cars on Main Street most of the time. The few times I’ve actually seen any traffic backed up at the rte 85 intersection it was perhaps a 2 or 3 minute delay. If you think that’s bad, try going up rte 85 to Hopkinton around rush hour – the backup is about a half mile, and they already have the left turn lanes. Or, go to Wayland center around rush hour and you can experience a true 5 minute backup, before you get to use one of their left turn lanes.

What’s most interesting is that the plan focuses on through traffic and pedestrian convenience. But we have little through traffic on Main Street most of the time, and frankly, very few pedestrians. There isn’t much downtown to walk to, and if the plan is implemented as proposed there will be no parking, so who would use those fancy, ADA compliant sidewalks ? Sure, there about 10 houses downtown, and sometimes those folks will walk to the library or Mauro’s, And we shouldn’t forget the students from Fay and St Marks. But for the most part Main Street is very quiet with no traffic of any kind, so the existing road and sidewalk seem more than adequate to meet the need.

John’s comments on the economic aspects of this project and potential impact on property values is to me the most significant risk here. As someone who lived in town for many years I have to say Southborough has a few attractive qualities, such as a convenient location, good schools, and quaint downtown that includes 2 prestigious private schools. Beyond that, however, there isn’t much here. No municipal pools, rinks, shopping, movie theaters, or other town supplied resources. But, it’s a quaint New England town; small, rural, folksy, and interesting to live in. Things here are informal and laid back and many of like it this way. Sure, we pave the roads, but if there are large trees in the way we just pave around them (Latisquama, School Street, for example.) .So, why would we take the one part of town that has the potential to showplace what we have, and who we are, and make it a big road to nowhere ? I can just picture a Realtor showing a family around town and saying to them “Here’s Latisquama Road – no sidewalks, big oaks we just paved around rather than cutting, some grand old houses, Very pretty, don’t you think ?. And here’s what used to be our small New England downtown. These days it’s mostly pavement, but at least it’s totally ADA compliant. In fact, it’s probably the only Road in Southborough that is, but frankly, I think we overbuilt.”

In any event my vote would be to keep the road small and to focus instead on making the downtown area accessible, and encouraging the type of development that will enhance the image of Southborough as a great place to live.

Just one persons opinion. Thanks for reading…

10 Southsider June 21, 2014 at 1:44 PM

The intersection was designed when the town, and surrounding towns, were a lot less populated. Pedestrians walking around cars parked on the sidewalk (like most days) was fine back then because there were not may cars or pedestrians. Today the town is more populated and there are more cars and more distractions. The intersection should match the others in Southboro such as the one at Richards Rd., Transfer station, Marlboro Rd. and Southville Rd. I don’t think any of them ruin the rural character of the town. After all it is called MAIN street for a reason. We should be encouraging people to use the street not go around the center, increasing the traffic on the other roads.

11 Silent observer breaking silence June 23, 2014 at 5:48 PM

I agree wholeheartedly with Southsider. There are a few very vocal residents of Main Street that are making this appear to be much more contentious than it really is. We have a traffic problem, and it needs to be fixed. The state will offset the cost of the fix. The town will do what needs to be done to make sure the end result is both safe and aesthetically pleasing. There are many of us who think this is long overdue. We are just a silent majority who trust in our town’s government to do the right thing on our behalf. That is why we elected them!

12 Ann June 22, 2014 at 9:56 PM

While driving down Main St. yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel,” all’s right with the world. ” It was a beautiful crispy clear summer solstice day. The flags were waiting for a slight breeze, the trees were casting shade, flowers were blooming, green lawns were manicured and hardly a car in sight. Full sunshine was radiating the monuments and the stone walls and the library and churches: Main St. never looked so beautiful. It gave a peaceful feeling., such a pretty sight to see.
Then a feeling of dread and anxiety came, knowing that a poorly- planned, poorly -explained construction disaester could devastate our beautiful historic Main St. We must get through to BOS( et al who reside outside of Southborough yet make decisions for us ) to offer us an alternative plan. We, the constiuents, the tax payers must not be ignored. We know whats best for our town

.Robert Browning. 1812–1889

718. Pippa’s Song

THE year ‘s at the spring,
And day ‘s at the morn;
Morning ‘s at seven;
The hill-side ‘s dew-pearl’d;
The lark ‘s on the wing; 5
The snail ‘s on the thorn;
God ‘s in His heaven—
All ‘s right with the world!

13 Southville June 23, 2014 at 8:06 AM

I feel the exact opposite when I’m stuck almost back at town center plaza in traffic, waiting far too long to finally make it up to the intersection at main street. :)

We need a new intersection there. Allowing traffic to progress through the center of town in a reasonable timeframe helps a lot more than it hurts.

14 John Butler June 23, 2014 at 10:51 AM

Southville,
The people who stand to receive an additional $300,000+ in design fees if this goes forward (VHB) report that, not only it won’t cure the traffic problem, it isn’t going to even materially help it. They say that if a maximum of 100 cars can move the through intersection in some unit of time as it is now, then this proposal will allow 108 cars to move through in that same unit of time. That is their report. I can’t understand why I should support all this new asphalt for a benefit the designers don’t even believe in.

Further, common sense says that more traffic is always available to keep the delays constant in time, a factor they admit they don’t even consider. Almost every night and morning I495 and RT9 are stopped. This intersection is part of a corner cutting route for those highways. Simarano to Rt 30 to Rt 85. Rt 85 to Rt 30 to Simarano. For people who don’t know that, GoogleMaps will tell them to do it.

We can all lament the traffic, and wish it weren’t so. However, as for helping it, the people who are paid to be optimists are pessimists. They are telling us, “Sorry, traffic delays are here to stay.”

Lets repave, soon, and not stop before Mauro’s. Make it look better. Make it safer where we know we can, without encouraging any faster driving. Be moderate in our expectations and our spending. Do no harm.

15 RB June 23, 2014 at 11:05 AM

Southville, I AGREE! I am often stuck in traffic that I don’t believe simple retiming of the lights will cure.

Speaking of history, I often take notice the sign on Route 85 welcoming visitors to “Historic Southborough”, and hear the downtown area of town and the common often referred to as “historic”.
*****
Websters On-Line defines “historic” as:

: famous or important in history
: having great and lasting importance
: happening or existing in the past

Full Definition of HISTORIC
: historical: as
a : famous or important in history
b : having great and lasting importance
c : known or established in the past
d : dating from or preserved from a past time or culture

Examples of HISTORIC
“It’s wonderful to see so many people here on this historic occasion.”
“She returned safely from her historic flight into space.”
“The court made a historic decision last week.”
“They know of many historic volcanic eruptions in the area.”
“The historic importance of the river”
*****

I know there are a lot of old homes on Main Street, but to me, just being old has no historic significance. And for the record I am for preserving old (perhaps more a much more fitting definition according to Webster) buildings as much as possible. I still can’t for the life of me get an answer to the historical significance of Southborough Center, other than perhaps General Henry Knox traveling through town one day (then that would make Rt. 9 historic also as President Obama traveled along Rt. 9 in a motorcade a few years ago from Marlboro to Framingham).

I would say the area is old, and perhaps in some areas beautiful.

For the record, history does exist in Southborough: Fay & St. Mark’s schools both have historic significance, Deerfoot Farms (most of which is long gone) had historic significance, as does the reservoir system, which played a large part as an early municipal water supply for Boston. So, please, don’t call me insensitive to history.

16 SB Resident June 23, 2014 at 5:56 PM

I tend to avoid the intersection during the rush, but when I do go through, an obvious problem is that people turning often keep the line behind stuck. The turn lanes will fix this problem and I suspect will really ease some those super long backups. I’d have to read the study closer to dispel the 8% number, but I’ll bet there is some number fudging going on. For example, I’d wager the number is from a 24/7 period, since 20 hours out of the day it is 0% better, the average number comes way down. The other thing I know from people that do it is roads like middle road get extra traffic with people cutting off the traffic. Getting the traffic off the roads it’s not meant to be on is another significant benefit.

17 Resident 2 June 23, 2014 at 11:11 AM

I completely agree with Southville.

Yes this intersection may be beautiful on a Sunday afternoon. But try the morning or evening rush hour on a weekday. It is a mess. Maybe the people who don’t want anything done have the luxury of avoiding the intersection during rush hour. I guess it depends on where you live and what your work schedule is. Many others do not have this luxury. To say that people should sit in traffic jams every day because it is empty on a Sunday afternoon is ridiculous.

18 Mark Ford June 23, 2014 at 1:16 PM

I’m with Mr. Butler on this one, and I am convinced that expansion of the road will result in at best a temporary 8% improvement–and that improvement will quickly be subsumed by Induced Demand, a widely studied and proven phenomenon:

(http://usa.streetsblog.org/2012/07/06/report-traffic-studies-systematically-overstate-the-benefits-of-road-projects/)

19 Frank Crowell June 23, 2014 at 4:22 PM

I have never understood how the Main Street project got to “added capacity” on either side of this discussion. We are not adding lanes to any large portion of Main St. We are adding left hand turn lanes to one intersection. Showing studies on adding new lanes or entirely new highways to large cities does nothing to convince me otherwise.

When I walked Main St recently, I can also see why just simple repaving is a waste of money as well. There are some real drainage problems on that street. That road will be back to where it is now very quickly with just adding tar.

20 southsider June 24, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Why not try modifying the light cycle timings? Is that a DPW thing? maybe our DPW Director could win back a few friends by trying to solve a problem. How could it hurt?

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