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Will Newton go for dead-end?

Idea proposed to avoid shortcuts around Route 9

Afraid mall-goers will bypass Route 9, because of backups like this one , and drive through their neighborhoods, Brookline officials seek to dead-end a road passing into Newton. (JUSTINE HUNT/GLOBE STAFF/FILE 2005)

In the latest in the delicate discussions over Route 9 traffic, Brookline Transportation Board officials plan to ask Newton officials to allow Brookline to make Heath Street a dead-end.

This would potentially shield Brookline residents from being inundated by traffic trying to bypass Route 9 once the new Chestnut Hill Square goes up across from the Mall at Chestnut Hill.

Because the street continues into Newton after intersecting with Route 9, Brookline must get permission from Newton officials. If that doesn't work, they said, they will ask the state to intervene.

Route 9, the four-lane artery through Newton and Brookline, is expected to see an increase of roughly 20 percent in traffic volume when four proposed residential buildings and 220,00 square feet of retail stores go into the 11.4-acre Newton site across from the mall.

Plans for the development are in the very early stages, and the permitting process will not begin for several months.

Brookline fears motorists will seek to bypass bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic by cutting down Heath Street to get to Hammond Street Parkway.

"Just about the only thing we can do as a practical matter is to do something fairly radical, which is to close off Heath Street at the Brookline-Newton line," said Michael Sandman, who chairs Brookline's Transportation Board. Heath Street becomes Florence Street at the town line.

The request isn't likely to find favor with Newton residents because it will make it harder for Florence Street residents to wriggle through back roads in Chestnut Hill.

Jay Woodward, former director of planning in Brookline and an Arlington Street resident, said that he, too, would be inconvenienced but that it would be better for the neighborhood in the long run.

Brookline officials said they have no say over the zoning process at Chestnut Hill Square, so they were unable to incorporate the traffic provisions they might have been able to had the development been on their side of the line.

The dead-end, they say, may not be ideal for Newton, but they are prepared to go to great lengths to get this concession.

"It might have, from Newton's perspective, an adverse impact," Sandman said. "But Newton might say, 'Well, if this will shut them up...' So it's hard to know."

Newton officials said they are open to finding a solution that works for both sides but have to consider any negative impact on their residents.

"There are several steps that would need to take place in our community before anything would proceed," Jeremy Solomon, a city spokesman, said.

Those include an official request from Brookline, Board of Alderman approval, and public hearings.

"We don't prejudge any situation," Solomon said. "We'll certainly give any proposals careful review, but we have to hear from our residents about how they feel about the proposal. I think, in a sense, we would need to be convinced in Newton."

The notion of creating a dead-end to curb traffic flows at the town line is not new. At the Boston-Brookline border, the town was able to successfully turn Columbia Street into a dead-end at the border with little controversy. Since then, the state has made it harder for municipalities to make such changes without the approval of the abutting town.

While the newly proposed dead-end would create an inconvenience for area residents, making it harder to get to Route 9, Sandman said the general feeling is, "that's the lesser of two evils."

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