By Tyler Charpentier and Laura Hayes
HUDSON – The Select Board weighed a potential prohibition on the use of compression brakes, also known as Jake brakes, during their Jan. 23 meeting. However, members and town staff voiced concerns on how such a prohibition would be enforced and noted that the brakes are used for safety.
According to Director of Planning and Community Development Kristina Johnson, when the proposed Intel redevelopment that would’ve built a 1.28-million-square-foot distribution warehouse was before the Planning Board, a group of abutters had approached the Internal Traffic Committee (ITC) regarding a prohibition on compression braking.
Johnson said the ITC pledged to take a “hard look” at steps taken by other municipalities and the practicality when it comes to enforcement of a prohibition.
In a memo to Executive Assistant Thomas Gregory, Johnson outlined eight other communities that have adopted a prohibition, including Northborough. In other communities, Johnson said having the prohibition led to limited citations.
“I think, generally, having such a prohibition on paper feels good, makes sense practicality because Jake brakes are noisy, it contributes to noise pollution, things like that,” Johnson said.
However, Johnson raised concerns about enforcement of such a prohibition.
She asked the Select Board to consider that not all truck noise comes from compression braking and could come from a faulty or defective exhaust system. She said that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation isn’t “keen” on the prohibition and don’t allow such on roads under their jurisdiction.
“Also, I think it’s important to understand that the application of these braking systems allow for safe braking, especially on steep slopes,” Johnson said. “Truck operators often have to make a spur of the moment safety decision on whether to apply these brakes in order to not jackknife their 18-wheeler or cause a rear-end collision.”
She added, “It’s really hard to differentiate between an emergency application and just a blatant application of the compression engine systems.”
If the Select Board considers a prohibition, Johnson said both the ITC and the Planning Department would strongly recommend exceptions for emergency response vehicles, Department of Public Works vehicles and vehicles that need to apply the brakes in an emergency.
Any prohibition would involve an amendment to Hudson’s general bylaws, according to Johnson.
Resident on Jake brakes: ‘It’s non-stop’
However, one resident voiced her support for a townwide prohibition to go before the spring Town Meeting.
Resident Elizabeth Szenher-Brown said when the prohibition was proposed, it was not part of the Intel redevelopment project and meant to be kept separate. She noted that Berlin adopted a prohibition on any roads or public ways maintained by the town.
“We would hope that the town would consider this,” said Szenher-Brown. “Living on Reed Road, the issue of the compression brakes has gotten out of hand. All you’ve [got to] do is come and sit on our driveway, and you can hear it from 7 to 7:30 in the morning to about 12:00 in the afternoon.”
She continued, “It’s nonstop. It’s become unbearable at this point.”
Members of the Select Board expressed concerns, including about the enforcement of such a prohibition.
“I’m fully aware of the dangers of not being able to apply those brakes and also the positive outcomes of being able to use those brakes,” said member Judy Congdon, who served as a lieutenant in the Hudson Fire Department.
She said her concern would be “safety over the noise.”