Main Street vs. Bolton?

| January 16, 2015 | 52 Comments

Residents debate ceding Route 117 to the state

Jan. 16, 2015

By Nan Shnitzler


It was standing-room only at the Houghton Building Jan. 8 when the selectmen hosted the first public discussion about the proposed ownership transfer of Route 117 to the Mass. Department of Transportation. Barry Lorion, District 3 operations engineer, fielded questions for over an hour after giving a 30-minute presentation that largely mirrored the October 2014 “Review of Ownership Transfer” report, available on the town website.

The section of Route 117 in question is an 8-mile stretch between Interstate-495 and Interstate-190 that spans Bolton and Lancaster and that carries a considerable amount of regional traffic. Lorion emphasized that safety trumps capacity, and most of the proposed actions in the report were related to safety for all: trucks, cars, bikes and pedestrians.

Lorion said both towns would have to agree before the state would pursue the transfer, and it would take 1.5 to 2 years to accomplish. Selectmen Chairman Larry Delaney said the transfer decision would be made by Town Meeting via majority vote.

The benefits to Bolton of transferring the road to the state include cost savings on maintenance, snow removal and capital improvements, which would significantly outweigh a loss of about $13,600 in annual Chapter 90 funding. According to a handout from Public Works Director Harold Brown, Bolton spends about $35,000 a year on snow removal for the 3.5 miles from I-495 to the Lancaster town line. Add to that, maintenance of the roadway surface, drainage structures, sidewalks, roadside railings—plus badly needed upgrades to the traffic signal at Route 110 (Still River Road)—means Bolton could be spending upward of $1,500,000 on Route 117 over the next 10 years.

“Our concern is lots of regional traffic on 117, and the town is paying for that, which is typically done by MassDOT,” Lorion said.

The downside is a loss of administrative control and decision-making around curb cuts, driveways, signage, pavement marking, and capital projects. Which doesn’t mean the town would have no say, Lorion hastened to add.

Lorion said Wattaquadock Hill Road was the most challenging location MassDOT engineers encountered in Bolton. He said the intersection would benefit by striping in a westbound left-turn lane and improving signage. He said a “polite queue” lets drivers make their turns, and the 30 mph speed limit deters accidents. But the intersection experiences a “loss of capacity because it’s not channelized well.”

Longer-term improvements to the intersection would take the Bolton Conservation Trust’s development of the Town Common into consideration, adding an eastbound turning lane, a traffic signal, and shoulders and sidewalks. Lorion said MassDOT was working on concept drawings at the request of the Trust.

Noelle Drewicz owns 711 and 713 Main St. just east of Wattaquadock Hill Road, where the Reflections lamp shop is located (she is not a town resident). She was concerned about a widened roadway landing on her historic property, where the well is located, and the loss of parking. But above all, she worried about the loss of the “quaint” town center feeling and the contribution small-scale retail makes to it.

“There are very few commercial applications [in town center], and one is about to be ruined,” Drewicz said. “So it’s a bigger deal than just Noelle’s house. Chopping off the front entrance to one of the few shops is not in the best interest of the town.”

Lorion acknowledged her property would probably be impacted, but not necessarily at the front door. While guidelines dictate 11-foot travel lanes, 4-foot shoulders and 3-foot sidewalks, Lorion said there was some flexibility, such as dropping shoulders as the intersection approaches. He offered to speak to Drewicz offline.

The junction of Route 117 and Still River Road (Route 110) is notable for being Bolton’s only regional top-5 percent crash site. It needs, at the least, modern traffic signals and the elimination of the entrances into Bolton Orchards that are closest to the intersection.

Among other problematic intersections is the high school where Forbush Mill, Green Road and Main Street come together. Lorion said the corner occupied by Classic Pizza needed curb cuts rather than an apron of concrete. Plus the section could benefit from traffic-calming measures to possibly lower the 45-mph speed limit, and then a blinker and a crosswalk so students could safely get a pizza for lunch.

“Clear markings and narrower lanes can slow traffic,” Lorion said. “You don’t want a crosswalk where people don’t expect it.”

Main Street resident Stephanie Schneider asked whether the state police or Bolton police would have jurisdiction over a state-controlled Route 117. Lorion said per Mass. law, the state police has right of first refusal, but tends to defer to locals when it comes to secondary numbered routes.

Delaney asked about traditional town parades, such as Little League Opening Day and Halloween, which require Route 117 to be closed for a short time. Lorion said DOT had a free permit application form online, and a parade is not a big deal.

Residents asked how traffic could be deflected to Route 2 and Interstate-290, which are better equipped to carry east-west commercial traffic. Lorion said variable message boards could let drivers know of congestion and suggest they head elsewhere. Dan Senie of Still River Road suggested a series of four-way stops could make Route 2 more appealing, but Lorion said the amount of Route 117 traffic exceeded guidelines for four-way stops.

Residents asked about maintaining local ownership in town center, which is on the national historic register but is not a local historic district. Lorion said such a “town gap” typically occurs when traffic is mostly local.

“We need to make the segment long enough to make it worth it, and MassDOT thought it better to tackle the roadway as a complete link,” Lorion said.

At the same time, MassDOT has to follow any rules around historic districts, Lorion added, and the agency has a cultural resources section to assure compliance.

Mass. law prohibits parking on state-numbered roads. Martha Remington, chairman of the Historical Commission, had done an informal survey of towns that had on-road parking on numbered roadways in historic sections. Lorion said he would look into an exemption, but even when drivers do park on a highway, the state wouldn’t necessarily get involved unless it posed a safety concern, he said. Delaney commented Bolton’s regulations don’t allow overnight parking on any town road between 1 and 6 a.m.

Selectmen needed no prompting (though they got plenty) to schedule another public discussion at their Feb. 5 meeting.  Location TBD.


More from Selectmen’s meeting in the January 23 Bolton Independent print edition

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