It was two years in the making and involved many hours of discussion, contemplation, and study, but the Route 6 Corridor Study has been completed and, further, has received approval from the Southeastern Massachusetts Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The SMMPO, as that group is known, was established to implement federally mandated transportation planning. It is a decisionmaker in the process of determining how federal and state funding of roadway and bridge projects will be allocated, according to the organization’s website. There are 13 MPO’s in the state chaired by the Secretary of Transportation. On March 27, in coordination with the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), final concepts and recommendations were released.
In the final report produced by SRPEDD, the two-year process that culminated in the report was included to add context to the project and the manner in which the towns participated. Noted was that at the request of the towns of Fairhaven, Marion, Mattapoisett and Wareham, as well as members of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation District 5, SRPEDD was engaged to study current conditions as well as the impact of future growth.
When public meetings and workshops were rolled out, the number-one item on everyone’s list of concerns regarding Route 6 was “safety.”
Community members expressed their concern over traffic speed, pedestrian and bicyclists safety and the lack of a designated bike lane. As the months went by, added to the list were intersections deemed hazardous locations by residents and town officials.
The study itself acknowledges that Route 6 was originally designed as the main throughway connecting Providence and points west to Cape Cod. Despite Route 195’s extension out to Route 25 in the 1970s, Route 6 has not been updated to better serve an increasing regional population.
Even Mattapoisett’s almost 2,000-foot stretch of shared-lane roadway between North and Main streets is over 30 years old. Marion has no such variety. There are lights at the Front Street intersection but not at nearby Spring Street, and there are no protected, left-turn lanes.
“We think, if you look at the report, our sections have more safety issues to address than any other town (on the corridor),” said Marion Selectman John Waterman.
Safety crossing Route 6 is a major concern where residences make up approximately 80 percent of the roadside properties to the east of Front Street. The stretch of road, a four-lane highway with only two yellow stripes separating the direction of traffic, abides like a relic from the 1950s.
A longer look at the stretch from the Marion-Wareham line at the Weweantic River all the way to the Mattapoisett line reveals Point Road and Front Street as the only two places where one can safely cross the highway.
“I think what we’d like to do is slow down (through) traffic,” said Waterman. “The roads in Marion are not only about cars, they’re about pedestrians and bicycles, too. I want people with kids to be able to get across Route 6 safely.
“I would like to see over time a kid who lives on Converse Road be able to bike to visit a friend who lives out by Kittansett… Right now, we have none of that.”
Despite Route 195, both local and through traffic persist along Route 6. Waterman thinks that making intersections safer by adding traffic lights, dedicated turning lanes, and bike lanes would naturally slow traffic to the point it would create the “second-order effect.”
“To the extent speed limits are slowed down, that will push more of the through traffic onto 195, which will be good for our community,” he said.
In Mattapoisett, Highway Surveyor Barry Denham discussed the importance of taking this opportunity to modify several intersections along the corridor that was problematic for motorists. Those locations are the intersections of Brandt Island Road, Church Street extension, and Marion Road. He lobbied to “straighten” out the geometry of the intersections.
In a conversation with Mattapoisett Selectman Paul Silva on April 18, Silva told The Wanderer, “Some intersections pose disaster.” He pointed to the intersection where Marion Road intersects with Route 6 as an especially dangerous layout. Other areas of concern that Silva said were pointed out in the report were the intersections at Route 6 and Mattapoisett Neck as well as Brandt Island Road.
Silva did not agree with one overall design concept, however, the removal of a left-hand turning lane between Main Street and North Street. “I would not want to lose that,” he said. Despite the current lane configuration’s calming allows of traffic as well as flow, Silva stated, “…it probably doesn’t do enough to slow traffic down in that busy area.”
Bonne DeSousa, a community volunteer who has spearheaded or been a prime mover in several critical projects in Mattapoisett including Complete Street projects, bike-path grant-writing, and the Industrial Drive reconstruction, commented via e-mail on the report.
“SRPEDD made some changes to their draft based on public input,” DeSousa wrote. “The report recommended continuing with plans for intersection changes and other less safe conditions regardless of lane reconfiguration. Changes at major intersections are really important. Any changes that make it easier to cross the road will be important.”
DeSousa noted the importance of District 5 design engineers’ advantage of greater latitude to change conditions than that of the transportation planners who authored the report. Designers can seek out “design exceptions” in the interest of safety, she said. DeSousa also noted a separate Department of Transportation effort going on, apparently begun after the study was undertaken, to look at the possibility of new ways to set speed limits. “It will take a long time to change the speed limit, but doing so will create better conditions,” she said, adding that community groups working on, “…road conditions that impact the pleasure, safety and prosperity of neighborhoods,” will stay involved in the conversation about traffic speeds.
While SRPEDD’s study says it does not function to homogenize a solution, Waterman is less than confident Marion will see its unique problem areas addressed if residents and/or officials do not step up and push at the state level. The trump card, right now, is COVID-19 and a state throwing every resource possible into limiting the pandemic.
“I honestly think if the state was going to redo Route 6, you’re probably looking at a huge price tag so not much is going to happen with it unless certain towns push,” said Waterman. “You’re not looking at a dense population with a lot of voters. It’s going to be up to the individual towns.
“I would be very happy where we could get this at the point in the next two years where we’re talking with the Department of Transportation and we, ideally, get them thinking about designs for parts of Route 6 in Marion. I would consider that a major next step.”
By Marilou Newell and Mick Colageo