Accidents prompt plea for changes

By James O’Brien
Globe Correspondent / June 27, 2010

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Edward Levine has seen firsthand the danger that he says exists along a stretch of Route 140 in Shrewsbury.

On the afternoon of June 14, just six days after a fatal accident at Route 140 and Gold Street, Levine witnessed the very problem he would be describing to selectmen that night, when he presented three proposed roadway safety alterations to the board.

“My eyes are glued to the rear-view mirror,’’ Levine said, describing the moment before he took a left off Route 140 onto Gold. “There’s this tanker truck, and it’s just highballing it. Now, obviously he moved around me, but he never slowed down.’’

Levine said the time has come to reduce the speed limit to 45 miles per hour along that section of Route 140, add left-turn lanes on both sides of the intersection, and install signs warning drivers of the dangerous intersection they are approaching.

On June 8, a car driven by local resident Donna Holbrook struck an SUV waiting to make a left, careened off the road and hit a tree, according to accident reports. Her passenger, Victor J. Matt son, 76, also of Shrewsbury, was killed in the crash.

In July 2008, one intersection farther north, at Adams Farm Road, Richard Topping — one of Levine’s neighbors — was struck by another vehicle. Multiple surgeries later, Topping appeared before the selectmen recently to support Levine’s changes.

“Bottom line is, it’s just an incredibly dangerous road,’’ Topping said, describing the portion of Route 140 in an interview last week. “The number-one issue is that the speed limit should be 45, not 55. It’s nowhere close to being a rural road.’’

Selectmen are aware of the situation. The section of Route 140 in question is state numbered but town controlled. Town Manager Daniel Morgado said, the board is expected take up the issue again at its 7 p.m. meeting tomorrow in Town Hall. An initial report is expected from town police and engineering officials.

“We know this is a serious problem,’’ said Selectman Maurice DePalo, who supports Levine’s request.

“We’ve had two serious accidents in the past year or two,’’ DePalo said. “There aren’t many places in town where you can look and say: ‘People were killed there.’ This is a unique situation.’’

Morgado acknowledged that there have been concerns raised about the section of Route 140 that includes the Gold Street intersection for some time, but he cautioned that the regulations surrounding road changes are not always easily navigated.

The task falls partly to Jack Perreault, the town engineer, who said Shrewsbury designated the stretch of Route 140 as it approaches the Gold Street intersection as a no-passing zone last year, and noted that intersection-ahead signs are already in place.

“Speed limits are a little bit trickier,’’ Perreault said. ’’People think they can just arbitrarily lower a speed limit, but you have to do a speed study, looking at the roadway and design.’’

The requested changes must not only get the town’s approval, said Perreault, they also have to conform to rules laid out in the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Regarding the speed limit on Route 140 and the amount of traffic required to qualify for a reduction to 45, he said, “My guess is, it probably won’t change.’’

A lot does change, however, about 2 miles south. There, said Levine, when the road crosses into Grafton, it drops to 30 miles per hour.

Perreault said the two sections of Route 140 do not bear direct comparison, however.

“The road is very different in Grafton,’’ he said. “It’s a narrower road and it turns residential. The part through Shrewsbury, from about Route 20 up to Route 9, we only have what amounts to a few residential driveways.’’

Also involved in reviewing the intersection is Police Chief James Hester Jr., who said his department is compiling an accident count for the location that will cover the past five years.

While he acknowledged the gravity of recent events, Hester warned that the accident figures might not show the intersection to be a particularly hazardous spot.

“I want to say, going off memory, that there’s not a real significant accident history, when you look at it over the course of several years,’’ Hester said.

He added that a larger traffic issue in town should also be considered in connection with Route 140.

“Complaints tend to come in as speed complaints, or signage,’’ Hester said. “But we’ll oftentimes find traffic volume is the issue. We have such a heavy volume of traffic. Even the volume in our residential neighborhoods has spiked over the past several years.’’

Levine said the details of the recent crashes might trump a report citing a low number of accidents at the intersection.

“The problem is, the ones we have there are beauties,’’ said Levine. “The accidents that have been occurring there, you might call them horrific.’’

Perreault, the town engineer, said there is one other issue that needs to be considered: human behavior behind the wheel.

“It seems to me that what we need to look at when we have these accidents is, are they preventable by what we’re trying to implement?’’

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