GROTON — The town of Groton has been advocating for a traffic signal at the intersection of Route 119 with Townsend and Proctor roads in recent months, but that request has been denied by the state and local officials are now weighing their options for making the junction safer.
The issue was outlined to the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 22 by Town Manager Mark Haddad, who recently met with representatives of MassHighway and reported being told that the intersection falls short on a couple of key “warrants” for a traffic signal. He said the intersection does not meet the eight-hour traffic volume requirements, nor does it have the number of accidents that would warrant a light.
“In accidents we’re close,” said Haddad. “With traffic counts we’re not, because at that intersection is busy from 6 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. It’s not busy the rest of the time.”
While MassHighway was not onboard with a traffic signal, Haddad said it would help the town improve the intersection, saying they’d work alongside DPW director Tom Delaney to come up with other ways to make it safer. Even so, selectmen sounded disappointed with MassHighway’s logic.
“So the traffic counts don’t meet it, but the number of accidents just misses?” asked Selectman Anna Eliot. “Doesn’t that mean that for the number of cars, there’s a higher ratio of accidents?”
Haddad said that’s a good point, but added MassHighway only looks at the total number of accidents. He also said MassHighway was only interested in accidents that involved people turning, because incidents of people getting rear-ended were expected to spike temporarily if a light were installed.
According to a recent traffic study by the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, 13 crashes involving 25 cars were reported at the intersection from January 2006 through June 2009. That study was used by MassHighway to determine if the junction met the state’s traffic light requirements, and it was undertaken at the request of town in September.
In addition to tracking traffic volumes and accident data, the study also determined the intersection provides a poor level-of-service for motorists looking to cross Route 119 during rush hours, with Townsend Road offering at typical delay of over 70 seconds, while motorists on Proctor Road could expect to be stymied for 115 seconds during peak travel times.
Speaking in late February, Haddad said the intersection does meet the state warrant for rush hour traffic, but added that alone is not enough to get the traffic light. Instead, MassHighway suggested installation of turning lanes.
The possibility of revisiting the traffic numbers was also raised by Town Planner Michelle Collette, who noted that the 94-unit Academy Hill subdivision has been permitted near the intersection, but was not accounted for in the state’s recent traffic study. She said they could at least evaluate what impact that would have.
At another point during the discussion, Selectman Fran Dillon pointed out that proximity to a school building can also be a “warrant” for traffic lights, saying the state appeared to “discount” that the intersection is just down the road from North Middlesex High School. He said they should follow-up on that point.
In both cases, Selectman Chairman Peter Cunningham agreed that the town should continue to pursue the issue.
“I think we need to keep the pressure up on MassHighway,” he said. “It’s a bad intersection.”
Haddad also reported that the topic of money was raised during the discussions with MassHighway, saying he was told a traffic signal at the intersection would have an estimated cost of $250,000. However, he said the traffic warrants — and not the money — were the issues here.
“It’s not really a money issue,” said Haddad. “It’s not a major highway project to them but they have their standards in the warrant and they’re not going to move from that.”