WHITMAN — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) plan to redesign two intersections along Route 18/Bedford Street found that at least one local businessman is not happy with what he has heard so far.
James Loring, owner of TLC Auto Sales & Service at 746 Bedford St., told state and regional officials during a public hearing Tuesday, Aug. 16 that he would take legal action if the plan encroached on his property in any way. His concern was that the plans would take 300 square feet from the corner where he displays the vehicles he sells.
“I’m greatly concerned,” said Loring, who has owned his business for 36 years ago and also operates a realty office at the Route 27 intersection. “I’ve got a ton of questions, but you’re not going to take my land. I’ll fight you to the bitter end for every square inch.”
Loring was assured after the hearing that the plans would not involve any taking of his land, and only required a temporary easement to allow workers to enter his property line to do sidewalk construction.
The sidewalk on that side of the intersection would stay exactly where it is now, according to Design Consultant Greg Lucas of BETA Engineering Group in Norwood.
“We’re not widening into your property, we’re not taking your property,” Lucas said. “Not a square foot. [The easement] is just to allow them to do the sidewalk work and to allow them to patch the asphalt — so they can do the work and then they leave.”
Town Administrator Frank Lynam told Loring after the meeting that he would email a copy of the design plan for him to review.
The MassDOT Highway Division held the design public hearing at Whitman Town Hall Auditorium on a proposed project to improve safety and traffic flow at the intersections of routes 18 and 14 and routes 18 and 27. Project Manager Muazzez Reardon facilitated the sparsely attended hearing in which only Lisa Szamreta of the MassDOT Right of Way Bureau, Lucas, Selectman Daniel Salvucci and Loring spoke.
Reardon advised that, since the design phase is not yet complete, not all questions could be answered at the hearing. A form was provided in hand-out materials for audience members to submit comments or questions to the Highway Division.
The project, expected to cost $3.2 million is still in the design phase to be concluded in 2017, with construction not expected to begin until 2018. Little traffic disruption is anticipated during construction, officials said.
“The reason that we brought this issue to Old Colony Planning Council was because both our police chief and our fire chief had concerns,” said Salvucci, who also represents Whitman on the OCPC Joint Transportation Committee.
Lucas outlined the need for the project and how it is being designed to meet those needs.
“Crash rates are higher than the statewide average,” Lucas said of the two intersections, explaining that at the Bedford and Auburn streets (18/14) intersection the rate is 1.31 crashes per million or 46 over the last three years. The state average is .8 crashes. At the Route 27 intersection the rate is higher at 60 crashes over three years.
Among the problems are a lack of left-turn lanes and protected movement for left turns — that is, a green arrow light when all opposing traffic is stopped by a red light. Pedestrian accommodations, such as crosswalks and sidewalks, also need to be improved.
The design calls for new traffic signals with a protected left turn arrow, an exclusive left-turn lane as well as sidewalk, crosswalk and drainage improvements and a dedicated bike lane.
Salvucci asked if the new intersection design would permit right turns on red light. Lucas replied that would be allowed at some locations.
“Both intersections have school bus [traffic],” Salvucci noted. He also pointed out the problem with truck traffic on Washington Street because of truck route designation at Route 14. Whitman is already looking into posting signs to restrict trucks from Washington Street.
Lawn areas and landscaping disrupted by construction will be replaced after work is completed.
“Affected property owners will be contacted by personnel from the Right of Way Bureau or consultants representing them,” Szamreta said. Permanent and temporary easements may be required, she said, but the number has not been determined, noting the MGL Chapter 79 protects property owners’ rights, as well as federal regulations where they apply.