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Bill Taffel is on a mission to change the speed of traffic around the town Common and he’s got a citizen petition on the annual Town Meeting warrant to make it happen.
Taffel wants to install a traffic light at the intersection of Main Street and Boston Road and is seeking Town Meeting approval for the appropriation of funds to pay for its design work. Selectmen will decide whether to take a stand on the petition at their Feb. 13 meeting.
“…if all members feel that they have sufficient information, then we would likely vote our position,” stated Selectman Chairman Scott Hazelton.
Through researching WestfordCAT videos, Taffel said he discovered that a previous Board of Selectmen, composed of Mark Kost, Andrea-Peraner Sweet, Don Siriani, Kelly Ross, and Hazelton, did not follow a recommendation made in a governmental study. The study recommended installing a traffic light at the intersection.
“The whole reason for this petition is I don’t think the town’s decisions about what to do with the center serves the people’s needs very well,” he said. “The purpose of this is to give them a chance to have a say about it because (town officials) didn’t do it before. They took it off the table. So now (voters) will have it.”
The 2014 report, entitled “Westford Town Center Traffic and Parking Study” was produced by the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments. The study listed the following options for the Boston Road-Main Street intersection:
- create a modern roundabout;
- create a multi-way stop;
- install a fully- actuated traffic control signal.
But the study ruled out the first two options and focused on the traffic signal, saying, “Installation of a fully actuated traffic control signal would promote an orderly flow of traffic through the Boston Road/Main Street intersection, which would also relieve congestion at the Lincoln Street/ Main Street/Hildreth Street intersection. However, the Town will need to consider the visual impacts to the historic district and the implications on community character.”
The impact on the character of the town concerns many residents. A Facebook post started by Taffel drew comments about the urbanization of the town and the loss of its country character.
Resident Gloria Tu Gilbert, a landscape designer who created the Common’s design in the mid 1990s under the auspices of the Common Restoration Committee, is opposed to the traffic light.
“I personally would not want to see one there, primarily because I really don’t want to see the future of that particular area commercialized,” she said. “…It takes away the country charm — the slow pace with the town Common surrounded by the old buildings.”
Gilbert views the 1-mile ascension from the Boston Road Gateway near Interstate 495 access ramps to the town Common as a vista to be preserved.
Without it, “what else do you have?” she said.
Crash Data Analysis
Gilbert questioned whether accident data would reveal a need for better policing of the intersection. The NMCOG report revealed eight crashes at the intersection between 2008 and 2010.
According to the study, “…All of the crashes were reported as property damage-only incidents with no injuries.”
Potential State Funding
But Taffel noted that the town has a rare opportunity to have the state Department of Highway cover the cost of installing a traffic light under the umbrella of a proposed Boston Road Reconstruction Project filed by Town Engineer Paul Starratt in November.
Starratt is proposing roadway rehabilitation and pedestrian improvements to Boston Road. He’s also seeking to make it compliant with the American Disability Act, and is proposing to add bicycle accommodations, drainage and water main improvements. The $375K project will go before MassDOT’s project review committee on March 15.
Taffel said the state is willing to pay for the construction of the traffic light in exchange for relinquishing the responsibility of maintaining Boston Road from the highway access ramps to Crown Road.
Starratt acknowledged the discussion.
“In my discussions with MassDOT about the proposed project, the District staff has indicated that they welcome the opportunity to discontinue the State layout after the road has been reconstructed,” stated Starratt, adding Town Meeting voters would have a final say in the change.
According to Taffel’s Facebook post, “As part of that project, the town would only pay the (traffic light) design cost ($55k) and the Mass. Dept of Transportation would pay the construction costs. It’s sort of a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Taffel worries that thousands of residents pass through the intersection daily, find it difficult to navigate, but are too busy to attend annual Town Meeting or other governmental meetings to take a stand.
“To me it all boils down to will they go to Town Meeting,” he said.
The 2014 NMCOG study noted that the annual average daily traffic was 15,500 vehicle trips on Boston Road south of Hildreth Street, and 10,100 vehicle trips south of Main Street.
The study spawned the creation of the Town Center Parking and Traffic Study Committee in December 2014 — a committee on the verge of being disbanded this month. The committee issued a report in January 2015 but did not recommend a traffic light. Instead, committee members recommended a three-way stop.
But the recommendation was contradicted by a November 2016 study by Beta Group, Inc.: “Based on the traffic volumes at this intersection a 3-way stop is not recommended as it will greatly increase delays and queues for the Main Street approaches. Given the high crash rate, it is recommended that the Town examine separating the westbound through lane from the westbound left turn lane with a flush median island… This will improve operations by separating the through vehicles out of the traffic stream, thereby increasing the number of gaps for Boston Road traffic.”
But Taffel is not giving up the fight.
“You may think you have a rural town center, but guess what — 20,000 cars go through it everyday,” he said.
Annual Town Meeting opens on Saturday, March 24 at 10 a.m. at the Abbot School, 23 Depot St., Westford
UPDATE – The cost of the Boston Road Reconstruction Project was changed on Feb. 15 from $320K to $375K to reflect the $55K cost of designing a traffic light at Boston Road and Main Street.