To the Editor,
State legislators, empowered to wisely spend our taxes, and the state Department of Transportation, now have the information needed to abandon the idea of adding a Blandford exit on the Massachusetts turnpike.
The DOT’s just-released $300,000 study demonstrates that the primary reasons for a new exit are not addressed by building one.
The report concludes that an exit would save hilltown commuters merely 10 minutes per trip and provide no measurable improvement in traffic flow at turnpike entrances in Lee or Westfield, key goals of the project.
Construction unlikely would hold to its $30-40 million estimated cost. Damage to local forestland, ponds and rivers, and increasingly threatened wildlife, would be beyond measure.
Lawmakers, and DOT officials, not building an exit was an option for your study. Take it. It’s irresponsible to use taxpayer money on a project that cannot meet its goals. More urgent projects need funds.
The state concluded there are two possible sites for an exit, both on Chester Road in Blandford, which becomes Blandford Road in Chester.
This road, with narrow, winding, hilly sections, cannot absorb 5,000 vehicle trips the study projects. Even with yet undetermined costly improvements, trucks and big rigs would pose a major danger. These same challenges caused the DOT to eliminate a third site on Algerie Road in Otis.
Area officials hope an exit entices new residents, populates schools, and improves local economies, but it’s not a solution. Birth rates are declining across the nation. It could mean 8.5 percent fewer public school students a decade from now, according to The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. High school numbers are projected to fall from 15.4 million students in 2022 to 14.3 million students in 2028.
Besides, many people seek the hilltowns for the ruralness, lost forever with an exit and its sure to follow stores and gas stations.
The state’s set objectives to reduce greenhouse gases and concentrate on smart growth is defied by this exit, which would encourage uncontrolled growth, or sprawl.
Seasoned urban planners, writing on the Useful Community Development website, believe a town or city can grow its physical boundaries outward without necessarily sprawling, if the population growth matches the physical growth. The DOT study projects little growth, or decline in the area.
Please, build economic development around the area’s strengths, like outdoor recreation, its beauty and serenity, not on an exit, and support transportation alternatives like rail.