In this next phase of its regional Route 6 study, the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD) is looking for a consensus among local Route 6 travelers on what changes, if any, they envision for the South Coast corridor. But still, after an online survey that allowed locals to express their major concerns, attendees at a December 12 SRPEDD community forum at Center School argued that the four options SRPEDD introduced hardly address those major concerns, and learned that even if a consensus could be made, the state might not agree to fund the preferred option.
Jed Cornock, principal comprehensive planner for SRPEDD, laid out four alternatives to the current state of Route 6, which aimed at accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists while addressing problematic intersections that, years from now, would likely worsen without intervention. Two alternatives reduce the highway from four lanes to two, and two maintain the four-lane roadway while attempting to include at least one lane for walking and biking.
Alternative 1 keeps the four lanes and adds 6-foot sidewalks to both sides. There is no increase in shoulder width (currently 6 inches), no drainage modifications, and no improvements for bicycle travel.
Alternative 2 keeps the four lanes and the narrow 6-inch shoulder, but creates a 10-foot wide side shared-use path instead of the 6-foot sidewalks of Alternative 1; however, this project would require the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to acquire land from properties along the road to accommodate the 64-foot right of way, which would add additional costs to the project.
Alternative 3 drops the road down to two 11-foot travel lanes (lanes are currently 10.5 feet wide) and adds a 5-foot shoulder. Each side would have a 5-foot bike lane and separate 5-foot sidewalk with a 1.5-foot buffer between them, all without needing to acquire land to expand the right of way. The downside, however, is the reduction in opportunities for passing slower cars, utility poles would likely need relocating, and drainage modifications would be needed.
Alternative 4 drops the road down to two 11-foot travel lanes, increases the shoulder to 5 feet, and adds a 1.5-foot buffer between the shoulder and a 10-foot shared-use ‘sidepath’. Like the third alternative, vehicle passing would be affected, and utility pole relocation and drainage work would up the price tag.
Some residents were curious about a two-lane alternative and wondered what they would be “giving up” with two lanes instead of four. Would travel time increase? How about safety?
“It’s difficult to estimate your trip time from one end to the other,” said Cornock, although Route 6 currently operates under capacity, he said, meaning that there remains some wiggle room to accommodate the same number of cars with only two travel lanes.
Mattapoisett resident Jodi Bauer, who lives on the Mattapoisett strip of Route 6 known as County Road, reminded the group of how unsafe Route 6 became when it was reduced to two travel lanes in the 1980s.
“There were some horrible car crashes on that period of time,” said Bauer. “And to think, people forget that it was called ‘Suicide Alley’ and it was called Route 6 ‘the killer.’”
Bauer read from a newspaper article from June 1983 when the highway was reduced to two travel lanes that quoted Highway Surveyor Barry Denham as saying, “I’m happy about it,” which elicited a few chuckles as Denham sat there that evening.
“We’ve been there, we’ve done that,” Bauer said. “It didn’t succeed then, and I just personally don’t think that going down to a two-lane would be to our benefit.”
Fairhaven Selectman Bob Espindola asked Cornock, if additional rights of way are necessary, are either of those options even realistic?
“If it’s not realistic, I don’t think that’s something that we should even consider,” said Espindola.
Cornock said he hears opinions from both sides – those in favor of two lanes with sidepaths and those in favor of keeping the four lanes – that keeps all the options still on the table.
“This is how we hear about what that consensus is,” said Cornock. “We can make recommendations, but it’s all about the people who live here and travel here.”
One resident wondered why there wasn’t an alternative that simply widens the four lanes, adds sidewalks, but excludes a bike lane.
“You’re squeezed and you feel very uncomfortable,” he said, suggesting an “Alternative 1.5.”
Cornock said Alternative 1 is clearly the least costly, and residents could push to “do little, or the least amount, or change it entirely.” But if residents in towns from Fairhaven to Wareham can’t agree on a vision, then Cornock said he would have to make that remark in his final study report to the state.
“What we’re trying to do is bring forward a united or cohesive plan for MassDOT,” said Cornock. “If we can’t accomplish that, I guess it’s back to the drawing board.”
The public survey SRPEDD conducted last year as part of its first phase of the study was completed by over 700 people. The top concerns included high traffic speeds, pedestrian safety, and the lack of bicycle facilities. But none of the options address speed, one resident pointed out. Cornock commented that adjusting speed limits is always a risk because the speed limit is determined based on the average speed of 85 percent of drivers taken during a traffic study.
Espindola said the cost of the project and its practicality are what would personally influence his decision.
“Some of these options really aren’t practical,” Espindola said, pointing out that the expanded alternatives with sidewalks and bike paths have never come to fruition in other parts of the state. So, if he chooses an alternative that is ultimately never going to happen, said Espindola, “Then I just wasted a vote.”
Ultimately, is this activity all just a waste of time, some asked.
“It’s a planning study,” said Cornock. “It doesn’t mean that it essentially is going to happen.” And if there is no subsequent consensus, he said, “The community then basically has to pick up the ball… The study itself is more about what you want to see the future of Route 6 look like.”
“Is this two-lane configuration just bonkers?” one resident asked. “If it is, then that’s what we really need to hear.”
Cornock told the group that the four alternatives he presented them came as a result of prior community outreach activities.
“All opinions matter,” Cornock confirmed.
The online survey showed that 14 percent of participants are happy with the current state of Route 6.
Cornock encouraged residents from Fairhaven to Wareham to attend a second SRPEDD Route 6 Corridor Study public forum on January 6 at 6:00 pm at Sippican School.
By Jean Perry