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Egypt Road residents petition COG for road closure

WHATELY — Thirteen Egypt Road residents have petitioned the Franklin Regional Council of Governments to close their dirt road, which crosses the Boston and Maine railroad tracks.

In June, the Board of Selectmen voted to keep the road open to traffic after holding three public hearings on the issue. But the residents wasted little time in filing a petition with the regional government, which is the agency that legally may close the “county” road.

The executive committee of the council will set the date of the public hearing at its next meeting on Aug. 8.

The Board of Selectmen has not met yet to discuss its official response, if any. The board’s next meeting is July 30 at the Center School.

Selectboard Chairman Paul Newlin said he believed the board would stand by its recommendation.

“I think it’s fine they’re petitioning. It’s well within their right,” Newlin said. “I don’t know what will happen. We haven’t decided yet if we’ll react, if at all. We’ve had three public hearings. I feel we have had access to all the pertinent information and listened to everyone and gave everyone the opportunity to express their concerns. I think it’s been a good process.”

Selectmen Jonathan Edwards and Joyce Palmer Fortune could not be reached for comment.

According to the petition, residents argue that Egypt Road is under-utilized and traffic across the road is generated almost exclusively by the residents.

The petitioners argue that Depot Road is a better alternative for access between Long Plain Road and Routes 5 and 10.

The petitioners are also concerned with public safety. They claim the railroad tracks create a threat to public safety, crossing too close to the petitioners’ homes. Train horns also become an unreasonable nuisance, petitioners said.

“Closing Egypt Road, and eliminating the Egypt Road crossing will minimize the mental and physical impact on residents from increased train traffic and train whistles,” the petition reads.

The road, located between Routes 5 and 10 and Long Plain Road, is a county road, not town-owned.

If the Board of Selectmen recommended road closure, they would have had to make a recommendation to the council, which would hold its own public hearing.

But that doesn’t mean no one else can ask the council to consider road closure. Anyone can petition the council.

At the hearing, the council’s executive committee decides whether road closure meets the standard of public convenience and necessity.

Whately residents and farmers have clashed over the fate of the road since January. The board had already voted in February to keep the road open, but it held a third meeting to give the public another chance to air concerns.

The board based its decision to keep the road open on the advice of town Fire Chief John Hannum and Highway Superintendent Keith Bardwell, who said it could take emergency responders an extra four minutes to reach Long Plain Road from State Road if Egypt Road closed.

The Agricultural Commission also petitioned for the road to stay open for farmers, who use it as a safe escape road to get from Routes 5 and 10 to Long Plain Road.

The question of road closure arose after the state Department of Transportation asked the board if it wanted to close the road or keep it open.

The Egypt Road crossing was one of 23 public crossings from Vermont to Springfield listed for possible closure in 2010 due to its low volume of traffic and because it is a dirt road.

The crossing now is part of a project to bring Amtrak passenger train stops to Greenfield and Northampton.

Keeping the road open would require the state to upgrade the railroad crossing for $400,000 to $500,000 to include gates, flashing lights, audible warning devices and pavement for the 60-mph train that would come through.

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