East Wareham highway overhaul addresses safety concerns but could inconvenience some, residents worry

Feb 16, 2018

Wareham residents voiced their concerns about a planned overhaul of Routes 6 and 28 in East Wareham on Thursday night, some worried that it could cause traffic delays during construction and others that safety problems would not be solved.

Public safety was the main issue emphasized during the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s informational session on the $18.5 million project.

Project plans were first unveiled in 2012. However, a lack of state funds pushed back the start date many times. Now, officials are ready to move forward, with construction slated to begin in spring 2019.

Carrie Lavallee, a project manager with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said the plan for the project has changed multiple times over the last few years. Currently, work will be done between the separation of the westbound and eastbound lanes near the Cranberry Plaza Shopping Center and a point approximately 900 feet east of the Red Brook Road intersection.

The Department of Transportation has considered Wareham residents’ feedback and there is still some room for changes, though the final design is nearing completion.

Plans call for creating two lanes going in each direction with a paved concrete median. The divider will stop people from cutting across the highway and making U-turns, while still allowing ambulances to cross over the divider, which will be 6 inches high, officials said. There will be designated spots for cars to turn around in five spots in that stretch.

Other changes include reconstructing traffic signals, adding safety features for pedestrians, constructing sidewalks and improving bike accommodations.

The project will also address the issue of flooding in that area, which leads to road closures near the former 99 Restaurant. Plans call for reducing flooding and treating runoff using a large catch basin near a vacant lot adjacent to Cape & Islands Tire.

State Representative Susan Williams Gifford (R-Wareham) attended the session and voiced her support for the project.

“We can’t not do something about Cranberry Highway,” said Gifford. “We can’t put this off any longer. It’s time now to act.”

Safety on the highway has long been a concern. According to the state data, that stretch of highway averages 150 crashes per year. Between 2011 and 2016 there were 10 pedestrian versus vehicle crashes, four of them fatal.

In October 2016, 56-year-old Ernest Raddatz of Wareham was struck and killed by a white Ford pickup truck while crossing Cranberry Highway. Police said the truck’s driver turned around after hitting Raddatz, leaving him in the middle of the road, and fled the scene. Raddatz was struck at approximately 8:30 p.m. and died less than hour later at Tobey Hospital.

In May 2013, a homeless woman, Annmarie Rita, was killed by a car on Cranberry Highway. Rita was hit by a 22-year-old Wareham man, Eric Crowley, who was driving a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee. That incident followed another fatal crash that took the life of 59-year-old Barry Russell. He was killed on Cranberry Highway in April 2013.

According to Ross Morrow, a design consultant from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., recent data shows car accident numbers on Cranberry Highway trending upward.

Selectman Chair Peter Teitelbaum said at the meeting that the road has been a “death trap” his entire life.

“In order for businesses to thrive down there, they need a safe roadway,” Teitelbaum said.

Some residents said the median might not solve the problem of car crashes on Cranberry Highway. Joe Spinola, who spoke at the meeting, said the median could cause people to drive faster because they won’t have to be as aware of cars turning into their lane.

“I think in five years, when you look at the fatalities, it will be greater than what you’re showing now,” Spinola said. “Speed kills.”

William Tripp of Onset proposed putting more police officers on the road to enforce the 35 mile per hour speed limit.

“You rarely see a cruiser on that strip,” Tripp said.

Wareham Police Chief Kevin Walsh said the police department is in favor of the plan because it will promote public safety.

“This is a reconfiguration that I think is going to add safety measures,” Walsh said. He said most car accidents on the highway are due to people making risky turns. In the past, the speed limit has been lowered, but he said that hasn’t helped much.

“We can’t be out there 24 hours a day,” Walsh said, adding that hundreds of speeding tickets are written for cars traveling on that stretch of road.

“This is public safety, hopefully at its finest,” he said.

Construction is currently estimated to take 32 months, or three construction seasons. This caused some concern among Wareham residents who attended the meeting. Some lanes will be closed, Lavallee said, though the Department of Transportation doesn’t anticipate shutting down the entire road. There will be a pre-construction public meeting in March 2019 to keep people informed on traffic changes.

Despite some apprehension from the public, most agreed that the measures will result in a safer Cranberry Highway.

“I’ve been around here for a long time and it’s always been suicidal,” said Dave Walton. “If one person dies, just one, that’s too much.”

The Department of Transportation held an informational session for abutting business and property owners earlier on Thursday. Click here for more on that meeting.