Town pursuing heavy truck exclusion on Flagg

The Select Board voted to seek an HCVE on Flagg Road while maintaining the existing one on Main Street

Above: After years of delays, the Town will now ask MassDOT to prohibit Class 5-12 vehicles from using Flagg Road as a cut-through.

The Select Board voted to ask Mass Dept of Transportation to add an HCVE/HVE* to Flagg Road. The Town will seek to add the restriction without lifting any existing truck exclusions, including the one on Main Street.

On Monday night, Select Board Chair Kathy Cook said she hoped Flagg Road residents won’t be disappointed to see the number of trucks will still be able to use their road even if Mass DOT approves the request.

An HCVE would exclude through traffic of trucks with 6+ tires on Flagg Road if there is an alternate route. That means that trucks would still be allowed to make deliveries or conduct work (like landscaping) at homes on Flagg Road or its offshoots.

Still, tractor trailers (like those from Ken’s Foods) would be prohibited from using the road as a cut-through to get to another area or to reverse their direction on Route 9.

The number of those kinds of vehicles using the road was small in a 2021 traffic study. (And yet, I’m confident that given the increased problems caused by those large vehicles on the narrow road, many residents would be happy with the change.)

In the discussion, the Board stated that they had received many requests from Flagg Road residents to put in for the exclusion and none asking them to not pursue it.

On Monday, the Board addressed that the delay in making the request turned out to be unnecessary. Member Andrew Dennington acknowledged that what they learned was different than what they believed when they decided to study Town traffic patterns before filing for an HCVE.

Cook stated that at an August meeting with the Town’s traffic consultant, she had still believed that they would need to lift the Main Street exclusion to apply for the one on Flagg Road. That was an assertion that was questioned by several residents. She reported that through follow up by Dennington with VHB, and the consultant’s subsequent conversation with MassDOT, she learned that may not be required.

The Board briefly discussed whether to also put in for an exclusion on Deerfoot Road at the same time. Members decided to focus on pursuing the Flagg exclusion for now.

Dennington told the public that the traffic study the Town had conducted wasn’t a waste. It provided valuable information related to other Town roads, including Oak Hill Road. Cook assured that in the future they will revisit some of the other report findings about potential additional exclusions or night-time exclusions in other parts of town.

The long history of the truck exclusion request by residents

The request has been a long time coming. Residents have been asking the Town to pursue it for years. Originally, residents and officials were told by DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan that she didn’t believe the road would qualify for an exclusion. That conceit was pushed back on by residents.

In spring 2021, a group of residents organized a Citizen’s Petition to have Annual Town Meeting pressure the Select Board to take the necessary steps to study and pursue the request. Voters passed the Article by a wide margin. 

Weeks later, a memo from Galligan to the Select Board stated that she had traffic counts of trucks done prior to ATM and Flagg Road did qualify for an HCVE. (Apparently, the report came back after ATM.) But she recommended that to request the change, the Select Board should lift the existing restriction on Main Street. Her argument was:

the HCVE on Route 30 makes it difficult for HCVs to move through town from east to west, or west to east, in order to get from Marlborough or Westborough to Framingham, or vice versa, without using Route 9. It also makes it difficult to set an alternate route for a proposed HCVE because vehicles have to use route 30 as an alternate route for so many roads.

In an August 2021 meeting, Galligan told the Board that to file a request with MassDOT to implement a new HCVE, the Town would need to propose an alternate route in each direction for drivers who currently use Flagg as a throughway. Her impression was that the other existing routes wouldn’t suffice. She also explained that Main Street’s HCVE is grandfathered in. Under updated rules, numbered state routes can’t apply for an HCVE. That means if the exclusion is lifted, the change would be irreversible.

The Board had heard concerns from residents that lifting the Main Street HCVE would cause issues for that road. (In a meeting this August, members also clarified concerns that lifting the exclusion could lead to trucks increasingly choosing routes that incorporate other cut-through roads like Parkerville.)

Given the potential ramifications for shifting which roads in town have HCVEs, the Select Board decided that they needed more information on traffic patterns in town. In September 2021, they voted to pursue a “global study” of truck traffic throughout Southborough. That needed to wait for Special Town Meeting on November 1st to approve the funding. The Town’s consultants then waited until March 30, 2022 to conduct the study. Their final report wasn’t generated for the Town until July 15th. A presentation was finally given at the August 9th Select Board meeting.

In the report and presentation, the representative for VHB (the consulting firm) recommended that the Select Board apply for the Flagg HCVE by requesting to lift the Main Street exclusion. Yet, upon repeated questioning, the answer was unclear as to whether offering Main Street as an alternate route would be required by MassDOT. In the meeting and subsequent emails, several residents pushed that it didn’t make sense to assume it was.

[Editor’s Note: When looking at some of the background on this story, I discovered something that I had forgotten. In summer 2017, the Select Board voted to have the DPW pursue an exclusion on Deerfoot and Parkerville Roads. The last update I could find on that was later that summer, when the DPW hadn’t yet heard back from MassDOT. I couldn’t find any further reference to it in subsequent discussions/minutes. I reached out to Karen Galligan to find out what happened with that but haven’t heard back yet. I’ll update this post when I get a response.]

*In some of the Town’s documents, the exclusion is referred to as an HCVE (Heavy Commercial Vehicle Exclusion), in others as an HVE.

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