A large group of Plympton residents attended Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting to discuss a possible MassWorks grant for improvement to the Ring Road and Main Street intersection.
The town applied for the grant, which would include engineering as well as construction, on August 9, and has not yet heard whether or not it will be awarded.
Vice Chair Mark Russo addressed residents saying, “I know there’s maybe been a little bit of misunderstanding of where we are in this process. It’s just a shame for people to get upset based on misunderstandings, whether we even get this grant to begin with. But to be just explicitly clear, the grant would include, as the first step, money for engineering and design options.”
He continued, “We, the selectmen, have made no decisions whatsoever about what would be best and in fact are just looking for opinions and looking for ideas. Certainly part of the process would include a lot of input and especially input from abutters and neighbors and people on that road.”
Chair Christine Joy described the objective as “Trying to find something that helps people negotiate that area but also slows them down; we’re all interested in controlling the speed of the traffic as well as making the intersection safer.” Joy said a speed study was conducted and some of the cars were found to be driving through the intersection at speeds as fast as 72 mph. According to the Board, Plympton police chief Patrick Dillon considers the intersection to be the most dangerous in town.
Russo also mentioned that upon hearing about the issues with the intersection, he was initially hopeful that the speed limit could be reduced town-wide. With the Board’s authorization Russo met with town counsel but learned that the state has very specific requirements regarding lowering speed limits and it typically isn’t possible to implement without the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s approval. Certain circumstances, such as qualifying as being “thickly settled,” allow for a town to lower speed limits without MASSDOT. Unfortunately, Plympton does not fall within those parameters as houses have to be less than 200 feet apart. In regard to reduced speed limits Russo said, “That’s a beautiful idea and a really inexpensive option but it doesn’t look like those possibilities are available to us.” Main Street resident Jen MacDonald asked the Board about the possibility of designating the road as a scenic road as that could possibly provide another avenue toward reducing the speed limit through a vote at town meeting. Russo said that town counsel didn’t think such a designation fit but asked for and received the Board’s approval to have another meeting with town counsel to be sure all options to reduce the speed limit had been exhausted. Chair of the Plympton Historical Commission Jon Wilhelmsen, who was also present, agreed that it would be worth investigating the scenic road designation further.
Of the myriad of suggestions brought to the table, the one with the most support seemed to be the idea to simply make the intersection a three way stop. A resident who described himself as living on Main St. right across from Ring Rd., said, “Don’t spend the money if you don’t have to spend it. Three stop signs – people are going to stop and it takes care of all of the problems right there.” Wilhelmsen, who also lives on Main St., agreed saying, “I think some of the ideas tonight are really good. I think moving the pole would be great because you can get away, I think, without even having an island there and you can just have a small road coming into a slightly bigger road with a three way stop which I think would be the simplest and the least impact to that corner.”
Another resident took objection to Joy’s assertion that paving the road in question would add to the problem by increasing speeding. He explained, “The biggest problem with that road is that it is a mess. A lot of heavy trucks have caused the depression on the side of the road which is a big scoop and there are ruts. I bet a lot of us do some bicycling there and it’s dangerous when you go around the road, we usually go off up through the school zone because we don’t want to make that turn.” With respect to driving, however, that same resident said, “That turn is not dangerous, I do it all the time and the visibility is reasonably good but the pavement is a wreck.”
Highway Superintendent Scott Ripley said that Ring Rd. (up to the school) will be getting an overlay hopefully in the Fall. According to Ripley the overlay will act as a band-aid to hopefully last 10 years.
The rest of Main St. has been held up due to the issue with the intersection in question. Paving the straightaway is more complicated as parts of that road need to be raised up 14 inches and since the road is over wetlands there is a lot of procedural red tape.
Resident Carolyn DeCristofano, who said she did research into traffic calming measures, offered some possible suggestions. One of those was to use textured highway where there’s a slight raise in the pavement at various distances along the straightaway to encourage slowing down.
She also emphasized that, based on the research, the curve should not be softened. “Nowhere does it say straightening a road is a calming measure for obvious reasons, in fact, many of the traffic calming approaches involve changing the road to make it more curvy. The trend is you make people turn a little or change their path rather than give them a straight dragway.”
Selectman John Traynor said that the last time the issue of the curve was discussed with the public, the general consensus was against any plan to straighten the road. Those in attendance muttered in agreement with Traynor’s statement.
The biggest concern voiced at Monday’s meeting was fear that taking the grant would cause the town to lose their say in what changes would be made to the intersection.
George Carver of Maple St. explained his concerns, “If you take a grant from the state… don’t we as a town lose the ability to do what we want? They’re basically going to come in and say we did the study, this is what we found and we’re providing the money to do it x, y, z way.”
The Board and Town Administrator Elizabeth Dennehy further stressed to those in attendance that an important part of the grant process would be the brainstorming and design work that would happen prior to any construction. DeCristofano summarized the Board’s point saying, “It’s a grant to plan and implement not a grant to implement a plan.” Russo said, “Frequently the best ideas come from the people that live there but the grant would also give us some money to hire experts to offer what are the options and then I think we want to look at the whole list.”
DeCristofano asked the Board if someone could please look into exactly what control the state will have over the project if the town accepts the grant money. Joy agreed acknowledging, “free money is not necessarily free money.” The Board and Dennehy said that if awarded, any meetings where decisions pertaining to the grant would be made, would be posted to social media and elsewhere to ensure public participation.
Upon the conclusion of the intersection discussion, Ripley gave the Board an update on the work to be done to the Winneteuxet Road Bridge.
Ripley said the work, which includes replacing two posts and putting up more modern guardrails, has been pushed back but expected it to commence in the next two weeks. Residents in the area have already been sent letters and the school has been notified. The road will be closed down at Elm St. and West St. for four weeks.
The Board also voted through several appointments including Kristian Oberg as a full-time police officer and all members to the town campus committee including Jon Wilhelmsen, Ross Macpherson, Colleen Thompson, Art Morin, and John Traynor as a Board of Selectmen representative.
The disposition of the old police station cell was an agenda item as the question remains as to what to do with the cell remnants.
The pieces that are to be removed are extremely heavy and cumbersome to move. Ken Thompson, a volunteer with the building department, was on hand to ask the committee if they would consider allowing him to take the pieces home.
Thompson said he feared that they would be tossed and said that his intention would be to reassemble what he could and make some of it available for public consumption.
The Board said that they would like to get input from the Plympton Historical Society.