ABOUT TOWN: $500K from State for Knollsbrook Traffic Lights a Mystery to Stoughton Officials
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KNOLLSBROOK LIGHTS A MYSTERY TO TOWN OFFICIALS: When the State's Transportation Bond Bill was signed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on Aug. 9, it had a few goodies inside for the good people of Stoughton, including a half-million dollar surprise that had town officials scratching their heads.
The Massachusetts State Senate and the Massachusetts House of Representatives sent the $1.5 billion bill to the Governor Deval Patrick, which included $100,000 for a study of downtown Stoughton and $175,000 to help buy the Stoughton Railroad Station from the MBTA.
But, most shockingly, was the section that included, “that not less than $500,000 be expended for signalization improvements at the intersection of Ethyl Way, Erin Road, and Central Street in the town of Stoughton, including, but not limited to, installation of a traffic light and improvements to the roadway and sidewalks.”
We all know that Central Street is loaded with traffic, and has some notoriously dangerous intersections (West and Central, Washington and Central, Mill and Central, Island and Central - just to name a few). But, Ethyl Way, Erin Road and Central Street - the Knollsbrook Condominiums intersection - were never in that mix.
Stoughton Police safety officer Lt. Michael Blount told About Town that “there hasn’t been a problem at that intersection. I’d rather see money go to traffic lights at Central and Island, Central and Mill, Central and Tosca, or Central and West. Those are places where we need the help, in my opinion.
"Putting a light at Ethyl Way, Erin Road and Central Street will make it a longer commute for those using Central Street. Any traffic light will slow you down, unless [it] is activated only by a car. Maybe if the Chapter 40B [Woodbridge, across from the Hansen School] is built, that will lead to infrastructure improvements. We have major problems on that roadway, but not at Ethyl Way and Erin Road.”
Superintendent of Public Works John Batchelder was just as mystified.
“I had not a bit of input into this,” he told me. “We’re in the process with a Brockton agency of doing a study of Central Street from the Avon line to Cobbs Corner to see what we can do to improve the safety, and alleviate the traffic, on the road. The biggest concern was Mill Street. We tried to help them. When and if Woodbridge is built the developer is supposed to re-align the West Street intersection on their dime.”
Batchelder worries about safety issues on Central Street.
“Island Street concerns me the most, because of the hills," he said. "Getting out of Tosca Drive and taking a left back on Central Street is nearly impossible. I’d have picked three or four ahead of the one they chose. But, I had no input.”
Planning Board Chairman Joe Scardino said he was not aware of the $500,000 traffic light and road improvement project at Erin Road and Ethyl Way until a reporter asked him about it.
“It certainly never came before the Planning Board," he said. "Not sure if it was a District 5 [State] decision or if Mr. Batchelder requested it [he didn't]. Could be the brains of the State that [said] we needed it. We’ve certainly talked about the timing of lights up and down Central Street, but nothing like that. Since none of us knew about it, it must be the State. That’s why we’re doing a Master Plan, to touch all the local groups and find out what their needs are. They didn’t come to public parties about this. Town officials should have been involved in the decision-making. I was certainly not at the State House lobbying for those lights. There were others I would have lobbied for.”
State Senator Brian A. Joyce (D-Milton) and State Reps Louis Kafka (D-Stoughton) and William Galvin (D-Canton) were the folks who got the $775,000 in total for the Town in the Transportation Bond Bill.
Senator Joyce, who is Chairman of the Senate’s Bonding Committee, told me that the earmarks were all put in by Kafka, Galvin or himself. As for the traffic lights at Erin Road and Ethyl Way, Joyce said, “I know it was a request from the House. We [the Senate] kept it in.”
He told me he was not aware that the location is directly in front of Knollsbrook, a condominium community where Kafka has resided since he moved to Stoughton from Sharon.
“I have no information on that. First I’ve heard of it,” Joyce added.
Kafka, who represents precincts 2, 3, 4 and 6 in Stoughton, lives in Knollsbrook on Erin Road. He told me he included the request because Knollsbrook’s residents have been looking for a traffic light there for over 20 years.
“Even before I moved in, people wanted to be able to get in and out,” Kafka told me.
I asked about other intersections that seemingly needed the traffic lights more urgently. Kafka replied, “Island Street needs a whole study in itself. I don’t think it would have gone anywhere. It’s a much larger problem because it affects Central Street. It would have taken specific language from the state, and not just a traffic light. We’re working with the town and their master plan in dealing with Island Street and Mill Street.”
I also spoke with former Selectman Dick Levine, who is now the President of the Knollsbrook Condominium Complex. He told me, “We really haven’t been pushing it. I found out it was included in the bill. It wasn’t because we did anything. Many years ago we tried, but nothing recent. It’s a busy street. There are sidewalks there already. But, there’s a lot of traffic, and on Ethyl Way the line of sight is very tough. I know that before I moved here seven years ago, they tried to get lights. It hasn’t come up in the last four years of Board meetings.”
One town official, speaking with anonymity, told About Town, “I have never heard of the state paying for a traffic signal and its ancillary support, without a qualified study, and without any prior meetings with town officials. Never. Ever.”
A Knollsbrook resident, Jessica, told me that, “It’s not usually an issue for me getting out of there. That’s crazy. I think lights are needed in other places before there. ”
Another resident, Barbara, told About Town, “Sometimes it is really hard to take a left turn in the morning, and then again around 5ish. During the rest of the day, I don’t have a problem.”
But, Sharon tells me, “My daughter lives in Knollsbrook. Her husband got in an accident pulling out of Erin Road. A traffic light at Island, Erin or Ethyl would be helpful to all condo owners in the area.”
I applaud the work of our legislators for bringing the money back into Stoughton. But, it seems clear in this case that this $500,000 project may not be the best one for the Town of Stoughton.
I hope that the money can be utilized at whatever intersection is recommended by the study being done under contract to the town, and with the input of paid employees who specialize in these things, like the Town Planner, Town Engineer, Town Manager, DPW Superintendent, and the Fire and Police Departments. Maybe it ends up being the one at Knollsbrook - or maybe not.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to: Stoughton's Nanette Tedesco, who works at Garber Brothers; to Joanne Schneider, membership director of the Stoughton Chamber of Commerce; and to Stoughton's Christine Iacobucci, who is a Stoughton Patch contributor. She and her daughter Bella were behind the "Raise the Flag" project which secured the funds needed to purchase a 30’ x 60’ American Flag for the Town of Stoughton. The flag was on display at Stoughton's pre-July 4th carnival, concert and fireworks.
HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY: Belated Happy 21st Birthday to Amanda Ledin. She celebrated Wednesday.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: to State Senator Brian Joyce and his wife Mary, celebrating at Fenway Park at the Springsteen concert Wednesday night, with four of their five children.