By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
NORTHBOROUGH — Northborough leaders outlined a number of steps taken to help mitigate traffic concerns on Bartlett Street during an Aug. 23 Board of Selectmen meeting.
The selectmen also approved the creation of a “safety zone” at the entrance of Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) in effect from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and from 2 to 9 p.m.
“Clearly, through all these efforts, it’s been a tremendous improvement down there,” said Town Administrator John Coderre. “As someone who lives in that neighborhood and is down there all the time, even if you look out at truck traffic in the downtown…it has been a very significant reduction in the amount of truck traffic.”
According to a memorandum sent to the selectmen, a number of concerns have been raised, including trucks turning the wrong way, trucks parking along Bartlett Street and drivers missing the entrance to their destination and turning around in neighborhoods. There were also questions over whether “Jake brakes” could be prohibited.
Town staff outlined a number of steps taken already.
The selectmen approved a no parking zone on either side of Bartlett Street from its intersection with Route 20 to the town border.
The town also installed no parking signs and granite blocks to prevent parking in a known rest spot used by trucks.
Town Meeting approved an article restricting the use of exhaust and Jake brakes. Northborough is still awaiting approval of the article by the Attorney General.
Coderre said the town reached out to Amazon early on in its time in town.
He said that, when the town received complaints from residents, staff followed up with Amazon, which followed up with its drivers and helped negotiate a mitigation payment.
“That was part of what informed and allowed us to keep this discussion going with them, got us the $80,000 in mitigation, got us the post-occupancy study and a lot of the other compliance trying to get there,” Coderre said.
Mitigation funds paid for work in town, including flashing beacons for crosswalks at ARHS and the Stirrup Brook Trail and the layout for bike lanes from the high school to a spot immediately before Cedar Hill Street.
Director of Public Works Scott Charpentier said the town reached out to Amazon, FedEx, A. Duie Pyle and the operators at 301 Bartlett, requesting that they install signs to show their drivers the proper routes and how to turn.
Charpentier said that, once the facilities were operational, the town reached out to the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission to conduct traffic counts.
Charpentier said that the town wants to seek a heavy commercial vehicle exclusion on Ridge Road and the rest of Maple Street. There are some roads in the area that already have truck exclusion, including Collins Road and a portion of Maple Street between Ridge Road and Route 20, he explained.
Additionally, a post-occupancy traffic study, which was negotiated with Amazon, is projected to start in September.
Coderre said the study will conduct a walking audit and analyze vehicles’ turning movements, speed and volume. The study will also analyze the types of vehicles in the area.
A portion of the study will be paid for by a grant and any balance will be footed by Amazon.
“One of the goals of the post-occupancy traffic study is to get a very clear picture of where the trucks are turning and where they’re going,” Coderre said.
Safety zone formed around ARHS
At ARHS, the safety zone would cover 700 feet in either direction from the ARHS entrance. The speed limit would be lowered from 35 mph to 20 mph when the zone is in effect.
A study of that area was also funded by Amazon.
“What we’re finding is that we don’t really have a speeding problem,” Coderre said.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t speeders, he added.
“But by and large, the study shows that people are fairly compliant in terms of what’s going on there in terms of the posted speed limits,” Coderre said.
Some selectmen and residents successfully advocated for the time period of the speed limit reduction beyond the town’s initial proposed end time of 6 p.m.
Selectman Kristen Wixted expressed concern that fine and performing arts weren’t included in conversations with the schools.
The theater department typically does three performances a year, she said.
“There’s a lot of evening rehearsals for that and then evening performances,” Wixted said. “I’m just concerned that the 6 p.m. may not be late enough for the vulnerable drivers.”
Resident Janeen Callaghan, who has athletes at the high school, also asked to extend the zone, referencing a variety of events that run into the evening.
“There’s hundreds of kids going to football games and soccer games on any given Friday night or during the week,” Callaghan said.
The selectmen agreed to revisit the safety zone in six months.