Town Engineer Paul Starratt, far left with Beverly Woods and Mikel Myers. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

Residents Object to Traffic Light Project in Westford

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Raymond Veno doesn’t want a traffic light at the intersection of Groton and Dunstable Roads.

The Groton Road resident said a stoplight would be out of character with the neighborhood.

So selectmen straddled the line, on June 13, appeasing opponents of the traffic signal but also giving Town Engineer Paul Starratt a go-ahead to pursue federal funds for the project.

Starratt has been working with Beverly Woods, executive director of the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, and Mikel Myers, principal at TEC, Inc., in Lawrence to secure $2.4 million in Transportation Improvement Program funds. The project is slated to begin in October 2018.

“This looks like it’s more driven by the fact there’s a state funding option quickly on the table as opposed to some of the other options that might be more suitable, given the residential nature of Route 40,” said Veno.

TIP is a federally-mandated, prioritized listing of highway, bridge, intermodal, and transit investments for fiscal years 2017 to 2021. The federal government’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

“This intersection is on our top 100 list of the most dangerous intersections in the region,” said Woods.

Starratt is proposing to install a smart light which uses sensors and artificial intelligence to intelligently direct vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

Groton Road has been the scene of at least two fatal crashes in years past – one at Tyngsborough Road, according to Woods, and another more recent one at Oak Hill Road.

A crash data summary table compiled from Police Department records by Myers’ civil engineering firm, shows that between January 2009 and November 2013 – the most recent available data – there were 53 collisions with eight resulting in bodily injuries. Traffic volume between March 20 and 22 was 10,637 vehicles, and traffic speed averaged 33 and 34 miles per hour east and west of the intersection.

Between May 2010 and March 2012, there were 14 collisions at the Oak Hill Road intersection – another area of Groton Road slated for roadway improvements and a stoplight under TIP. By contrast, the Dunstable Road intersection experienced 27 crashes during the same period.

“I anticipate that at some point, statistically,…it’s a matter of time before…somebody is going to go into that intersection, and they’re going to sustain a serious injury,” said Starratt.

But residents Beth Flanagan, Mary Hosford, Ethel Rothman and Jocelyn Bishop all stated objections, expressing concerns that traffic would back up in front of their driveways and exhausts from trucks stopping and then accelerating at the light would pollute the air.

“…what if we just cleared all the brush away?” said Flanagan. “Just give it a year and see if just by clearing the signage we can make a difference.”

After discussion, selectmen opted to spend the next year maintaining the shrubs surrounding the stop signs on either side of Dunstable Road and trimming tree branches to eliminate any visual obstructions.

Knowing the TIP document would go into effect on Oct. 1, 2018, Selectman Chairman Andrea Peraner-Sweet suggested a compromise to Starratt.

“If we can continue on the timetable that you have but at the same time that gives us a year to see if some other measures work…,” she said. “…and if they don’t, we’ve got more data to support the decision that we really have tried everything…and we really need to go forward with it.”