Select Board to discuss requested closure on Chestnut Hill Road tonight

Above: The Select Board will hear from residents asking for a one way section of Chestnut Hill Road to be closed off to vehicles and converted to a paved recreational path. (image from Google maps)

On Monday, when I posted about the highlights on meeting agendas this week, I failed to notice a significant one. The Select Board* will hear from a representative for residents who have requested dead ending traffic partway down their street.

(I also missed that the Trails Committee will discuss its proposed change of committee structure/bylaw. And since then the agenda has been updated to mention a new Open Meeting Law complaint filed.)

Previously, I covered the Chestnut Hill Road residents’ request here. In September, 0ver 53 residents signed a petition supporting a letter from residents of the rural road. It asked the Town to consider abandoning a center section of the rural road.

Residents were pitching a plan to limit vehicles’ access to the two way traffic sections at either end of the street. The center section, which is currently one-way, would be reserved for use by pedestrians and bicyclists.

The letter requested the Board first meet with residents on the street then follow up with a public hearing. The agenda for the 6:30 pm meeting tonight includes an appointment with Whitney Beals, one of the signatories, on the issue.

In meeting packets posted on the Town’s website, memos from Southborough Public Safety Chiefs weighed in. Fire Chief Stephen Achilles opposed the request:

It is my recommendation that Chestnut Hill Road be maintained and improved to promote safe travel of all vehicles from Main Street to Northboro Road. Not only providing access to wooded areas and fields along Chestnut Hill, the road provides alternate access to Dairy Farm Lane and Jericho / Northboro Roads in the event Johnson Road is unpassable.

If the decision is to close the road to through traffic, the Fire Department will require an appropriate sized cul-de-sac or turnaround for fire apparatus at the point of closure on both ends. This is in accordance with NFPA I – Dead Ends.

Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus’ memo was less clearly opposed, but also voiced concerns:

The Southborough Police Department would have some concern about the added response time (albeit small) to the northwest area of Town along with the Dairy Farm Lane development.

A larger concern would be the significant response time increase should Johnson Road become blocked off/inaccessible for any reason, as responding public safety vehicles would have to go through Marlborough and loop around.

Some type of maintenance of the road way with emergency access should be considered.

In contrast to the costs indicated in the memos, petitioners had pitched that their plan would save the Town money by reducing road maintenance and plowing costs.

However, the central argument made by residents in the letter was safety concerns: 

In its current condition, the roadway is wholly unsuitable for high-speed vehicular travel. For most of its length, the Abandoned Roadway is hemmed in on each side by embankments and drainage ditches. Wildlife ranging from chipmunks to deer often dart across the roadway. Large, mature (and in some cases dying due to age and pestilence) trees grow almost right up to the edge of the pavement. In other places, visibility is limited due to hill crests and bends in the road. These hazards make the roadway unforgiving in the event of pedestrian-vehicle conflict.

It is hard to overstate the danger. As an apparent “short-cut” between Main Street (Route 30) and Northboro Road (which leads toward the nearest entrance ramp to Interstate 495), vehicles regularly travel down Chestnut Hill Road at distressingly high speeds, likely in an effort to shave time off their morning or evening commute, or the drive to Algonquin Regional High School. . .

Worsening the problem are distracted drivers and the frequency with which nearby residents have witnessed vehicles driving — often at high speeds (!) — in the wrong direction. Large trucks also frequently use the road, ignoring the “No Trucks” signs placed at the road entrance on Main Street.

The secondary pitch was encouraging paved public access for recreational enjoyment of the scenic area.

The letter had also claimed that the alternate path is quicker for commuters who have been using their road as a shortcut:

Surprisingly, it actually takes longer, at posted speed limits, to travel the 0.8 mile of Chestnut Hill Road from its southern end to Northboro Road than it takes to travel the 1.0 mile between the same points via Northboro Road.

On this point, I do have to share that my family has timed both routes and found that to be inaccurate.

We have found that when traveling west on Route 30 it is slightly faster to take Chestnut Hill Road to Northboro Road than to continue on Route 30 to get to the same point on Northboro Road. (That is following the speed limits, which includes a long stretch of 20 mph on Northboro Road.) That is only when the farm road is quiet. (At times when cars are coming and going from the farm’s parking lots, it is slower.) 

Although their road and request are unique in some ways, the farm road residents aren’t alone in lobbying selectmen for improved safety on their way. Other roads where residents have united to raise concerns include Flagg Road, Oak Hill Road, Pine Hill Road and Paramenter Road.

*On Monday night, voters approved changing the name of the Board of Selectmen to Select Board.

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Southern Breeze
2 years ago

As I stated with the earlier thread for this topic, it is a bad idea and restrictive to those that are less able to propel themselves to enjoy the fields and stonewalls that we all purchased the rights to see several years ago. Chief Paulhus may have read my comment about the possible issues of restricted travel as well since he echoes that sentiment beautifully.

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