SHIRLEY — The prospect of problematic truck traffic generated by planned commercial developments in two neighboring towns is raising warning flags among local residents, some of whom aired their concerns at the Select Board meeting Monday night.
The issue is that Lunenburg and Lancaster have projects in the pipeline that include large distribution centers, mega trucking depots that could substantially up the number and frequency of big rigs rumbling through Shirley, potentially putting people, property and local roads at risk, according to those who spoke at the meeting.
The residents — including Robert Adam, Gordon Chase and Planning Board Chairman Janet Tice — wanted to know what, if anything, the town plans to do in response.
Tice, whose board took up the issue at a previous meeting, suggested creating a “truck exclusion” zone that would map out designated truck routes for large tractor-trailers, avoiding town roads that as Adam pointed out, were not built to handle heavy truck traffic.
When the Planning Board discussed the matter, Tice said the Lancaster and Lunenburg projects will benefit the other towns with a “big influx of tax dollars,” but there’s no positive side for Shirley.
“We gain nothing and lose everything … is how I see it,” she said.
Chase agreed. Promising the Select Board he’d hold off on his “passionate speech” about Shirley’s cherished “rural character,” he noted its importance to townspeople and how these projects threaten it.
He said there must be a way to balance “responsible development” with retaining “the wonderful and rare rural character that we love.” But the distribution centers pose a threat, no question, he said.
Chase said he sees more 18-wheelers barreling through the center of town these days, including car-carriers going to and from businesses on Great Road. Two new truck depots book-ending Shirley’s borders will make matters worse, in his view.
“If we’re smart, we’ll … start planning now,” he said.
If the solution is a truck exclusion zone, the question then becomes how to structure traffic studies that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will require.
Those at the table and in the audience agreed it would be a challenge, gathering needed data and community input and coming up with preventative strategies “before the problem becomes real.”
Select Board member Bryan Sawyer said the board will address the issue in depth later and will host a presentation in February.
Adam suggested “no cost … or low cost” measures the town can take in relatively short order, such as lowering speed limits and posting signs.
Chairman Debra Flagg said it’s tough to know, ahead of time, how this matter will play out. “We can’t count the number of trucks taking Route 2,” she said.
And at this point, with the other towns’ plans still on the drawing board, “we don’t know” what the future scenario might look like, she added.
Sawyer noted that the truck exclusion zone option would involve a process, with an array of moving parts.
“A lot of residents have legitimate concerns,” Sawyer said. “We want to do things correctly,” he said, explaining why the issue was an agenda topic at this point but would be fully addressed next month.
“We have reached out to agencies to find out how to start … to structure this process,” he said, adding the board would know more by mid February and can then share that information with residents.