Selectmen agree with Flagg Road residents that tractor trailers pose a safety issue for their street. However, the Board isn’t willing to pursue changes to truck routes without studying potential impacts to other roads.
Last week, the Board of Selectmen discussed funding a “global study” of traffic patterns, especially of tractor trailers and other large vehicles traveling through Southborough.
The Board is hoping to get enough information to help them determine which streets make the most sense to have a Heavy Commercial Vehicle Exclusion (HCVE). Just the whiff of a potential change to current HCVEs already caused alarm on one street.
The HCVE issue stems from Flagg Road resident complaints about safety hazards caused by tractor trailers driving down their narrow, windy sidewalkless road. Residents have noted that many kids walk and bike to nearby schools. A Citizen’s Petition for selectmen to pursue state approval of an HCVE on Flagg prevailed at Annual Town Meeting.
Following up, Public Works had a traffic study of Flagg Road conducted in early May. According to DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan, the results showed the road does qualify to apply for an exclusion. However, selectmen would need to identify the alternate route for trucks to take to get from one side of Flagg to the other. That needs to be in both directions. Rerouting down Deerfoot and Clifford Road wasn’t seen as ideal.
In order to propose Main Street as part of an alternate route, the Board would need to lift Main Street’s own HCVE.*
Selectmen could identify Main Street as part of an alternate route if they agree to lift its HCVE. Board members discussed that Main Street would be a safer road – it’s wider with more sidewalks. However, they worried about unintended consequences, especially for other back roads.
Some residents and officials have posited that the trucks on Flagg mostly result from drivers missing the entrance to Ken’s Foods on Route 9 and seeking a quick turnaround. However, Galligan opined otherwise. She pointed out that the study showed the same number of trucks traveling in the opposite direction on Flagg. She also referenced reasons that large trucks can have local destinations (e.g, moving trucks, delivering joists to new houses being constructed).
Selectman Marty Healey said he couldn’t make an informed choice about lifting the HCVE without better understanding the potential impacts. He wanted data on where trucks are coming from and going to. He also wanted an assessment of what changes could lead to on other roads. Most members agreed that further study was warranted. Board members worried that bringing more trucks to Main Street might result in heavier travel on other small roads.
More context on what a broad study would entail and cost was requested by the Board in their August 17th meeting. Last Wednesday, Town Administrator Mark Purple told the Board that Public Work’s consultant VHB responded close to the meeting. They estimated about $22K including labor.
Selectman Andrew Dennington expressed concern about paying for another traffic study on top of many others conducted in recent years. He wanted more detail defined as to what VHB would be studying.
The Board discussed adding the study as a Warrant Article for the Special Town Meeting. In later public comment, Main Street resident Tim Fling wondered why it was necessary to wait. He asked if it could be covered by the road works budget. Purple told selectmen he would follow up with Galligan to see if Chapter 90 funds could be used.
A representative for the Flagg Road neighborhood, Jonas Linden, argued that more studies aren’t needed to pursue a protection for Flagg Road. At both the August and September meetings, Linden urged that the Board had the information they needed to move forward.
Last week, Chair Lisa Braccio responded that she had received calls from worried Main Street residents. Lifting the HCVE could attract many more trucks that currently aren’t taking back roads through town. (Some commenters were raising an alarm in blog comments in recent weeks. It began with a comment complaining that indicated selectmen were considering lifting the HCVE without explaining any context.)
Selectmen agreed that whatever they learn in a study will lead to making some hard choices. They made several references to the number of complaints they hear from residents on other problematic roads. Proving the point was another item on last week’s agenda. Residents of Oak Hill Road are asking the Board to help reduce traffic accidents on their street. (I’ll cover that in a separate post later this week.)
In August, Braccio also told Galligan she would like to talk to MassDOT about options for signage on Route 9 and other ways to discourage trucks from turning onto Flagg.
*Note: If you’ve seen large trucks on Main Street, that’s because trucks are allowed to travel it if their destination is local.