Massachusetts Department of Transportation shared updates on its Route 114 safety project last week and heard from locals on what changes they want to see along the road this spring.
About 40 residents and officials attended the workshop that was held at the Torigian Senior Center in Peabody Tuesday night. They gathered around aerial maps of the road’s two corridors that run along Andover Street in Peabody and Danvers to discuss their ideas.
Mainly, for MassDOT to bring back the turn lane leading into Loris Road in Peabody and replace the two-way turn lane often called the “suicide lane” that runs from Petco down to Interstate 95 with a median.
MassDOT kicked off the two-stage project this fall. During Tier 1 work, which concluded just before Halloween, workers added protected left turns, took away several lanes, painted hatch marks to break up the middle turn lane, made signal improvements and added two crosswalks to the state highway.
It was a fast-tracked effort to improve safety on the notably dangerous road, said Kayla Sousa, a senior program manager at MassDOT who is working on the project. This stretch of Route 114 sees a crash rate that is 33% higher than other roads similar to it in the state, and has had several fatal crashes over the last few years alone, she told attendees at Tuesday’s workshop.
“We felt the urgency that was being communicated to us in various ways to bring safety improvements and put into action some of the things that we talked about during the road safety audits earlier in the year,” Sousa said.
Nick Dellacroce was only 18 years old when he was struck and killed by a car while riding a motorcycle on the road last year. His mother and many of his friends have fought to make Route 114 safer since, including Leanne Maynard from Danvers and Lynnfield resident Jackie Dalelio, who wore t-shirts donning Nick’s name Tuesday night that were made by his twin brother.
The two girls stayed longer than most participants at the workshop. As did Peabody resident Mitchell Barnes, one of Nick’s closest friends since childhood. His biggest ask: the middle turn lane be changed into a median with turn-around spots, which would cut down the number of accidents, he said.
“I hope people take other people’s lives into consideration. It’s a big thing with 114,” Barnes said. “I personally call it ‘death road’ because of the amount of deaths and accidents that have been on it.”
Sousa said flex posts will be added to targeted spots of the middle turn lane during Tier 2 work this spring. A team separate from the safety project will concurrently study the western corridor, where the middle turn lane is located, while Tier 2 work takes place to see “what it would take” for a median to be installed, she said.
That study would take about a year to complete, Sousa added.
“What we could do in the short term was pretty limited to pavement markings because we didn’t want to drop in flex posts and be limiting business access without talking to business owners,” Sousa said. “And they’re just quite frankly wasn’t enough time.”
Rachel Dellacroce, Nick’s mother, had to leave the workshop early Tuesday night to attend a grief support group she’s been a part of since his death. While she is glad that action is being taken on the road, removing lanes with paint isn’t helping to solve problems related to the middle turn lane or most other problem points on Route 114, she said.
“I think they are moving too slowly where the fatal accidents happened and too quickly without a lot of forethought at the issues at the other problem area,” Dellacroce said. “It seems like they threw down some paint to try to appease people, but it has nothing to do with solving what the actual problems are.
“I don’t understand why they can’t put up the flex posts in some of the spots now where it really won’t impede any businesses,” she continued.
Residents from the Loris Road neighborhood also asked for the turn lane heading into that neighborhood from the direction of Route 128 be brought back.
Crews added hatch marks and barrels to block off that lane and another next to the North Shore Mall this fall to improve safety, Sousa said, since MassDOT received complaints of cars running red lights at the intersection there and saw a high number of sideswipe and rear end crashes around those lanes.
The change has made it harder for residents to turn into their neighborhood — and nearly impossible for emergency vehicles to get through heavy traffic now that there is nowhere to pull over, neighbors said at the workshop.
“You’ve got cars coming off the highway, everybody’s merging in two lanes and then they give you the short right hand turn to go down Loris,” said Dennis Marrone, a resident in the neighborhood. “Not to mention, if you want to go to Kappy’s, you can’t. You’ve got to slow down, stomp on your brakes and make a right-hand turn.
“All we asked for was for them to adjust the timing on the traffic lights,” he said.
That change was made during Tier 1 work, Sousa said. To monitor traffic patterns resulting from the lost lane, MassDOT staff has done spot observations of the area and will install cameras there for several months, she added.
“We’re still seeing this discrepancy with what our staff are telling us is happening and with what we’re hearing via email, so we’re digging into this deeper,” she said.
A MassDOT survey on the results of Tier 1 work showed mixed reviews from the public. Of the more than 75 responses, most people liked or were neutral when it came to the addition of protected left turns and crosswalks, yet most respondents disagreed or felt neutral about new line markings that restricted travel in lanes like the middle turn lane and the former lane leading to Loris Road.
The project team will present a proposed design for Tier 2 work at another public workshop that will likely be held in early spring, Sousa said.
Peabody city councilors joined State Reps. Sally Kerans, D-Danvers,) and Tom Walsh, D-Peabody, along with State Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, at the workshop.
“[Changes] are just not happening as quickly as people on either side would like, and there are significantly different issues from the eastern side to the western side of 114,” Walsh said.
Lovely said she is grateful for the progress that has been made on Route 114 thanks to the project, but that more still needs to be done.
“I would especially like to see the addition of a green median with dedicated turning lanes to help separate and regulate the flow of traffic in the corridor,” Lovely said in a statement from her office. “I will continue to follow this project closely as we work to create safer conditions for commuters and pedestrians alike.”
For more information on the Route 114 safety project, visit https://tinyurl.com/114safetyimprovements.