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My Turn: Time to take deadly Colrain stretch of road seriously

  • LIVELY



Monday, September 18, 2017

 

In October of 1950, as a Colrain native and resident of 6 Jacksonville Road, I witnessed the first Colrain Center auto crash when Mr. and Mrs. Tracy Pope, both 80, of Shelburne Falls, lost their lives when their car crashed through my grandparents (Bert and Josephine Streeter’s) living room at 4 Jacksonville Road, with the car’s headlight landing in my sandbox below. I had just left my grandparents’ home moments earlier.

That was the first of seven crashes, not five as has been stated in recent news articles, the last six being trucks that crashed into homes on this road.

For the years between 1950 to 1985, we were extremely lucky no further crashes took place — lucky with so many children walking that road to Colrain Central School, up the hill to the General Store, to the library or Post Office — lucky that no further catastrophes happened on this hill. Then, 35 years later, things changed following reconstruction of the road:

May 8, 1985: A truck driver from Indiana, carrying 40,000 pounds of rayon for Kendall Mills, lost his brakes and crashed into my grandparents former home again. This time owned by the Furtado family, taking off their front porch.

May 9, 1994: A tractor-trailer driver from Watkinsville, Ga., carrying bails of cotton, crashed into the same house once again which had then been condemned due to all the previous damages. “Inadequate brakes” cited as the cause according to State Police, thus earning that house the nickname of “The Truck Stop.”

May 28, 1999: A truck driver from Greenfield, driving a load of asphalt for Felton Construction, plowed through the front yard of the condemned house above “Truck Stop” and ripped off the porch of my old homestead at 6 Jacksonville Road, Clinton and Madeline Gray’s residence, burying itself into the sod of the side yard. At this time our daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons were living there — that front porch then serving as a play area for our grandsons — another miracle that they were not home at the time.

Aug. 18, 2004: Another tractor-trailer, hauling 50,000 pounds of loam and mulch, lost its brakes and smashed through a utility pole, slid into two houses — the old Kelly house on the corner and again my grandparents’ old home at 4 Jacksonville — both vacant.

July 7, 2017: A 10-wheeler, loaded with gravel from Lashaway Logging of Williamsburg, rolled over in front of 6 Jacksonville again, crashing into a utility pole.

August 15, 2017: A driver from Winchester, N.H., driving a 10-wheeler dump truck crashed into the old general store, more recently known as the Blue Block, resulting in death of driver.

Seven destructive crashes on a dangerous mountain. What is being done? I am pleased that Mrs. Leustek, the widow of the driver in the most recent crash, has approached the town selectmen urging action. Since 1985, in every newspaper article covering these crashes (I have a scrapbook full of these clippings), many suggestions have been made with seemingly little results.

In 2004, a Recorder article quoted Larry Salvatore, then of the State Highway Department, stating “the people of Colrain are likely to get the most help from the town selectmen because it is their road ... even though it is a numbered road, it’s not a state highway at that point.” Salvatore stated he was informed by his traffic engineer, “in order to ban trucks from the steeper approach into town, the selectmen would have to write an official request to the Highway Dept. and arrange for a study to be done on the effects of such a change. Then, the request would have to be approved by the district and then by the Boston office.” Has this ever happened?

In every article in the Recorder reporting these crashes, there is reference to much discussion of what to do but it is time for action! I personally wrote to Sen. Rosenberg after several crashes had occurred in the above locations, stating we had been fortunate since 1950 that no further fatalities had occurred, but it was inevitable there would be if nothing was done. He called me, assuring me he would be “keeping an eye on the situation.”

An article in the Aug. 23 edition of the Recorder encouraged residents to write their legislators Stan Rosenberg and Rep. Paul Mark to voice their safety concerns. Michael Slowinski pointed out “We need to remind MassDOT that a truck ramp was talked about 30 years ago, when they made that road design. What is the tipping point to get a truck escape ramp? ... The time for denial has stopped. It’s time for action.” Signs have obviously not worked. Mrs. Leustek is absolutely correct in saying the current situation “is not acceptable.”

Recently, another article appeared stating a warning sign is coming for the steep section of this road, “urging heavily loaded trucks to use a lower gear before taking the long sloping road into the town center.” Apparently, the Selectboard has agreed “to spend $1,400 on a sign with solar-powered flashing LED lights telling drivers to reduce speed or change gears before their vehicles accelerate down the slope referred to as Colrain Mountain.” This sign was ordered by highway superintendent Scott Sullivan and supported by a MassDOT engineer. One of the best statements to date has been that of Selectman Jack Cavolick, who stated that spending $1,400 for a highly visible warning sign was “a wise investment to save lives until we can do something more permanent.” While this may be a start, the best advice was given in 2004 (and I can only assume never followed) by Larry Salvatore (previously stated above) on petitioning for a ban of trucks on that hill. An escape ramp also should be seriously considered.

I strongly encourage residents of Colrain not to let up in trying to make its town center (what is left of it) safer for not only those who live there, but others who travel this road. Write, make phone calls to anyone you can who will listen. Even though I no longer live there, I plan to do the same. Jacksonville Road, 4 and 6, provided me and members of my family with many fond memories. If nothing is done soon, 6 Jacksonville Road again may be the next target sitting as it does in the direct path for oncoming trucks. How many more lives need to be lost, homes damaged or serious injuries take place? As we know, actions speak louder than words!

 

Cynthia Lively lives in Greenfield and is a former Colrain resident.