HARWICH — There was strong support for roadway improvements along Route 6 from approximately 20 people who attended a Cape Cod Commission hearing last week focusing on ramp and shoulder improvements along the state highway.
The hearing sought public input on ramp and shoulder needs from the canal to the Orleans Rotary. Steven Tupper transportation program manager for the commission explained a planning study is being conducted for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and he emphasized that it is in the early planning and design stage.
When exactly such improvements would take place was not completely clear. Tupper said improvements will happen in small segments as MassDOT addresses roadway improvements. He said repaving is planned on the stretch going through Barnstable, and that might be the first location where improvements would be made.
Harwich Department of Public Works Director Lincoln Hooper said he sent a letter to District Five of MassDOT more than a year ago calling attention to the problems that have existed at Exit 10, the interchange with Route 124. He said the town engineer did design work and provided an estimate to lengthen the west bound acceleration lane, which has been a high accident location.
“We were disappointed MassDOT did nothing. We asked to have it done with the work just completed,” Hooper said, referring to recent paving work.
Tupper acknowledged the great work the town did in trying to move that project forward and said he would work with the town to get work done.
While the commission's study encompasses Route 6 from the canal to the Orleans Rotary, the major focus in the session in town hall on Wednesday was on the section from Exit 9 to the rotary. That section of road has a number of deficient acceleration and deceleration lanes as well as unpaved shoulders.
The number of accidents at the Exit 10 interchange was highlighted, and the lack of acceleration lane distance was cited as a cause for a number of rear-end accidents. Tupper said Exits 10 and 11 crash ratings are among the highest. Conversion from dirt shoulders to paved shoulders along that stretch would lead to a 13 percent crash reduction, he said.
Harwich resident John Wheeler said he has been driving Route 6 for more than 50 years and had observed projects designed to enhance safety. Although several have generated the desired benefits, “I believe that adding paved shoulders and extending acceleration and deceleration lanes on many exits would be beneficial.”
Despite state efforts to improve highway drainage, significant ponding still exists, he said. In many locations, he said, ponding causes hydroplaning and loss of control. Wheeler attributed this to insufficient distance between the outside lane edge and the roadside curb.
“In many instances this condition has forced me to move toward the center of the highway, thereby inhibiting traffic flow. I believe this problem would be further minimized or eliminated with paved shoulders and the movement of drains to the new shoulder,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said traffic entering the highway at Exit 10 must accelerate quickly from a stationary position and many efficient cars, without adequate horsepower, can have trouble accelerating safely. Further, the east bound deceleration lane requires quick deceleration into the sharp turn to exit the highway.
Tupper pointed out acceleration and deceleration lanes are well below the recommended lengths at most interchanges on Route 6; some are 400 feet where 1,000 feet is recommended.
Sandra Pastuszak of East Harwich questioned the use of the stanchions along the center line along Suicide Alley, suggesting guard rails would be more of a safety barrier. She also noted the absence of a solid shoulder along and said it would be safer, especially for ambulances, to have shoulders paved all the way to the hospital exit.
Tupper agreed shoulder improvements would better assist emergency vehicles, would provide suitable space for disabled vehicles, provide additional room for snow removal and better assist with stormwater management. Wetlands and guard rails are among the issues that would need addressing with expanded shoulders.
“Why not consider widening it from Exit 9 to the Orleans Rotary?” Stan Pastuszak inquired.
Martin Gulik of Orleans said he supports both additional ramp lane paving and paved shoulders along that stretch. But he also urged getting people to focus once again on “yield” signs. “People don't know what it means,” he said. “They need a refresher course.” He also said people do not use signals when merging any more.
“People don't know how to merge,” Stephen Buckley of Chatham said. “It has gotten worse, peoples' behavior with regard to merging. Right of way is something you give, not take.”
Gulik also said people do not adhere to speed limits and tail-gate, especially around exchanges. He recommended police write more tickets. He asked about police jurisdiction on Route 6.
Harwich Police Chief David Guillemette said Route 6 is under state police jurisdiction. He said his department responds to assist with accidents. Gulik said they may have to talk with their legislators to get more state enforcement out there.
Doug Payson said between Exits 9 and 10 there are ATV tracks worn into the side of the road where they cross Route 6 and he has seen all-terrain vehicles in the middle of Route 6 traffic trying to cross. He said their access to the highway should be blocked.
The commission had scheduled a second hearing at their offices in Barnstable the following day. Tupper said the comments made during the presentations would be added to the commission's study and presented to MassDOT. It will be up to MassDOT to establish the timing for improvements. Residents will be apprised of progress and would be able to provide input into the engineering phase, he added.