WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen have voted to establish a commercial vehicle exclusion zone on a section of Washington Street between the Route 14/Auburn Street intersection and the intersection with Route 18 toward Abington.
The state prohibits such exclusions on numbered roads, so the section of Washington Street that overlays Route 14 toward East Bridgewater cannot be included. The designation would not prevent large and commercial vehicles from making supply deliveries to businesses in that area.
The town has to submit the exclusion zone designation to the state, which takes four to eight weeks to review documentation and authorize the zone before signs can be posted. In the meantime, the town is considering cautionary signs and is enforcing speed limits.
“My concern is two-fold,” Town Administrator Frank Lynam said. “One is it’s a residential area and two is we just spent money repaving the whole street and traffic like that will destroy it in no time, because those [town] roads aren’t built for that load.”
The move came after resident complaints resurfaced about trucks using Washington Street as a bypass of heavier traffic on Bedford Street (Route 18) as they travel to and from a school construction project in Abington to East Bridgewater.
Lynam said the Old Colony Planning Council (OCPC) conducted a traffic study of Washington Street last year when the town began experiencing heavy traffic — both by volume and weight — finding between 100 and 150 or more large trucks were using the road per day.
Abington has also been asked to review the OCPC findings because of the impact on the intersection with Route 18.
At the time, Lynam spoke with Abington Town Manager Richard Lafond and asked him to speak with the construction project manager “to encourage” them to use Route 18.
State roadways such as Route 18 are designed and constructed to handle a high volume of heavier vehicles. The OCPC report was done in compliance with Department of Transportation regulations pertaining to setting weight limits on roads.
Data collected indicates the percentage of heavy vehicle traffic north of Temple Street on Washington is “quite high,” while the volume to the south is a bit below the 5-percent threshold the state uses before considering a heavy vehicle exclusion, according to the report summary.
“However, in the big picture, it’s clear the trucks are using Washington Street as a travel route and the logical start and end points for a potential heavy vehicle exclusion zone would be from Route 18 in Abington to Route 14 in Whitman,” the report stated.
It also charted Washington Street traffic speed from Route 14 to Route 27 — with the average at 28 mph and 85-percent of motorists driving at 39 mph. North toward Abington 85 percent of traffic was clocked at 31 mph. Heavy vehicles made up 16.2 percent of that traffic volume. From the Park Avenue four-way stop to the Abington line the average speed was 43 mph, “which supports the issue of vehicles picking up speed after they clear the stop sign,” Lynam said. Trucks made up about 11 percent of those vehicles.
“That’s important to know because the 85th percentile is what they generally use to set the speed limit,” Lynam noted.
Residents began complaining about the traffic on Washington Street in December and Lynam asked Police Chief Scott Benton to look into the traffic patterns on the road, which initially led to a reduction in the heavy truck traffic. Residents have let both officials know the problem has returned.
Pamela Kane, a Washington Street resident, has been particularly concerned about the situation, Lynam said.
Benton, who had not yet reviewed the traffic survey, has talked about the traffic problem with Lynam and Kane.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” he said. “I do think this is a good move for the board to make.”
The noise and vibration from compression release engine brakes on the trucks — known as Jacobs engine brakes, or Jake brakes — has also been the subject of resident complaints Lynam and Benton said.
One man said he was having coffee in his kitchen when a truck hit the Jake brake and “he said ‘my whole house shook,’” Benton reported.
The board also voted 4-0 to review and update the job description of the assistant town administrator position and the approach to take in seeking a new person for that job. Selectman Lisa Green recused herself from the discussion because she is interested in applying for the job.
Green cited her experience as an attorney for the Commonwealth working for the Social Security Administration, and her work as a selectman with an interest in the management of the town.
Whitman has been without an assistant town administrator since Greg Enos left in April to take a human resources manager job elsewhere.
Lynam said he has $163,009 in projects pending for the Green Communities grant to deal with, as well as three projects under the Community Compact — $25,000 for a wage and personnel study, $15,000 for solar energy project analysis and some $10,000 for the reuse plan for the old Regal property — in addition to other management duties.
“We are approaching a year with four contracts up for renegotiation,” he added. “I don’t think there’s any question in my mind that the town is best served by maintaining the position of the assistant town administrator and I would like the board to consider moving in that direction.”
Voters at the May Town Meeting approved the line item to continue funding the position’s salary.
“I think we need to look at the description of it,” Selectman Dan Salvucci said of the assistant town administrator post. “We felt as if we needed one before, and it seems we still need one. … Do we want someone that will step into [Lynam’s] shoes eventually, or do we want somebody that just wants to be a good assistant?”
Selectman Chairman Carl Kowalski and Selectman Scott Lambiase volunteered to work with Lynam on reviewing the job description and salary — about $63,000 — offered.
“Clearly, we want to hire someone who’s capable of functioning in my role when I’m not here,” Lynam said. “My biggest concern right now … surrounding towns are compensating people at a much higher level than we are.”
He noted one of the factors in Enos’ decision to leave was the then-$61,000 salary, which is less than some of the department heads with whom he was asked to work in a management or administrative role.
The town is negotiating with the Collins Institute at UMass, Boston to conduct a broad-based wage and personnel survey of Whitman town employees in part because of Lynam’s concern about salary parity with other communities as well as job descriptions and expectations.
“I don’t think this survey will prevent us from making a reasonable analysis here,” he said. “But I think we have to talk about it a little bit and recognize we’re not going to hire somebody at the funding that the line presently has.”
Depending on the hiring cycle, there may be sufficient funds available to offer more money to start, but another Town Meeting vote would have to follow to increase the salary going forward if that is done, according to Lynam.
Selectmen, meeting next on Aug. 30, should have more information from the job description subcommittee’s work, with an eye toward hiring someone by the end of September or early October.