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Route 9 work may lead to changes to a PVTA route in Amherst

  • Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Administrator Sandra Sheehan and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz listen to proposed service changes for fiscal year 2018 during a special meeting of the PVTA Advisory Board in Springfield on Wednesday, July 19, 2017.



Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 05, 2017

State transportation officials focused on improvements to the Route 9 corridor, which include concepts such as adding a roundabout at Damon Road intersection in Northampton and widening a stretch in Hadley, are considering speeding up Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus service.

But in addition to ideas such as dedicated bus lanes and giving priority access to buses — like how ambulances are treated — one recommendation in the Hadley Route 9 Corridor Improvement Plan would eliminate two downtown Amherst bus stops.

As part of the plan that could be implemented in federal fiscal year 2020, which starts October 2019, the B43 route between Smith College and the University of Massachusetts could change so that stops are removed in front of the downtown post office at the intersection of Kellogg Avenue and North Pleasant Street, and on the Amherst College campus in front of Converse Hall.

The possible changes are already getting attention from Amherst officials, Town Manager Paul Bockelman said.

“We think this is a degradation of service and will advocate for continuation of existing service,” Bockelman said.

The possible removal of stops comes at a time the town is trying to ensure residents who depend on public transportation can get to shopping destinations, both in downtown, as well as Hadley, where malls and shopping centers are located.

To reduce route time and increase frequency of buses, there are also ideas to move stops closer to roadsides, such as one that is in the Hampshire Mall parking lot.

Amherst Select Board Chairman Douglas Slaughter, who is the town’s representative to the PVTA Advisory Board, said the ideas are still a ways off, and that any changes, even ones that could happen in the near future as PVTA faces budget cuts, will be part of public hearings.

Kevin Kennedy, spokesman for Five Colleges, said Five Colleges has not yet seen a complete proposal, but he said the state Department of Transportation will continue to have meetings on the ideas.

Like Slaughter, Kennedy said nothing will happen before PVTA holds public hearings and the advisory board is consulted.

“While MassDOT can make changes to Route 9, it can only make suggestions about changes to bus routes,” Kennedy said.

“As we did in responding to the proposed route eliminations over the summer, Five Colleges is prepared to work with our member institutions to represent the best interests of our campuses’ students and employees,” Kennedy added.

Nicholas Horton, who lives in Northampton and works at Amherst College, said he worries about any plans that drop Amherst center stops from future UMass to Smith College express service.

“Such a change would limit the number of riders and hamper the use of transit for those commuting between Amherst and Northampton.” Horton said. “While UMass students, staff and faculty make up a large population of riders, to be sustainable and allow more people to rely on the service the main bus route needs to connect both communities.”

Horton notes that keeping the Norwottuck Rail Trail between Northampton and the Swift Way in Amherst clear of snow and ice during the winter might also reduce some of the congestion on Route 9.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.