, Salem, MA

December 4, 2013

Our view: Danvers traffic woes continue

The Salem News

---- — There were plenty of problems when the state unveiled its $23 million “upgrade” of the intersection at Route 128 and Elliott Street (Route 62) in Danvers last fall.

Lights were poorly synchronized, signs were confusing, misspelled or nonexistent, and the overall design caused more traffic confusion than traffic calming. Cars were often backed up from the lights to the Danversport Yacht Club. The line of eastbound autos, meanwhile, often stretched back toward Holten Richmond Middle School. Traffic as far away as the Cummings Center in Beverly was affected.

In response, Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials promised to “tweak” the new collection of traffic lights in an effort to solve the problem.

A year later, it is clear the tweak didn’t do the trick. According to data from the Danvers Police Department, accidents at the intersection are up sharply at the intersection.

Police responded to 51 accidents at the junction in the first 10 months of 2011, 79 accidents during the same period last year and 87 accidents during the same 10 months this year, according to Danvers police analyst Sara Slavin.

“Of the 87 accidents this year, 35 were due to an operator taking a left turn, and six were identified as rear-end collisions,” Slavin said in a letter to selectmen.

Slavin also noted that “the new on- and off-ramps began being used on or about June 1, 2012, and 67 of the 79 accidents that occurred from January to October 2012 happened after the on-ramps opened.”

Much of the problem centers around the left turn from Elliott Street eastbound onto the Route 128 north on-ramp, which requires cutting across two lanes of Route 62 traffic, guided only by a sometimes-it’s-there, sometimes-it’s-not green left-turn arrow.

The setup has led to a number of what police Chief Neil Ouellette calls “courtesy crashes.”

“One lane waves you by, and the other lane T-bones you,” Ouellette said. “The car in the second lane can’t see the vehicle.”

The sweeping, white-knuckle left turn isn’t the only problem. The entire area is still a poorly signed, poorly spaced morass of traffic lights and turns. Drivers often don’t know what is legal and what isn’t. Yes, it is easier to exit from and merge onto Route 128. However, the state needs to do better than move the problem off the highway and onto the side streets of Danvers.

The state Department of Transportation held what it calls a “road safety audit” last month, which included a visit to the ramps and a meeting with town officials.

“Certainly, there was evidence to suggest there was an increased rate of accidents after people learned the new geometry,” Town Manager Wayne Marquis said, adding “There is an opportunity to improve what is there.”

MassDOT officials say they are putting together a report on the issue, a process that will take at least a month. Then, said spokesman Michael Verseckes, the agency will “explore ways to expedite the implementation of any improvements.”

Here’s hoping MassDOT takes the issue seriously. The residents of Danvers and commuters from all across the North Shore certainly do. And for $23 million, taxpayers deserve better.