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Editorial: Improving roads, rails

Work now under way on South Street in Northampton will make this busy route safer for all travelers. For a reasonably small investment of $92,000, the city’s Department of Public Works is creating bike lanes on both sides of the busy road and using rumble strips to help distinguish them from regular lanes.

Because of its width, the road prompts some drivers to hit the gas pedal. Residents along South Street have witnessed dozens of accidents in just the past few years and have been lobbying for the city’s help to slow traffic. Though South Street feels like a thoroughfare, many cars are heading to and from residential side streets.

Construction that will run at least through next week is designed to slow vehicle speeds by narrowing the main travel lanes. It isn’t the lack of space that leads to accidents, DPW officials note, but the abundance of it. By highlighting the new bike lanes in green and cutting into pavement, this “traffic calming” technique will send the message to drivers that they need to moderate their speeds.

One piece of the project, being handled by Hi-Way Safety Systems of Rockland, is experimental. Hardened plastic markings will be placed into indentations in pavement to present a new look to drivers.

Ned Huntley, the city DPW’s director, says the thermoplastic devices are gaining use due to their durability. They need only last seven to 10 years, though, because in that time South Street is scheduled for a full makeover.

For city taxpayers, all these gains are a gift: The cost is covered by money set aside from projects that were calculated to increase the traffic burden on South Street. They include a gas station further south on Route 10 and the Mass Development project on the former Northampton State Hospital grounds.

Busy roads are dangerous no matter what, so caution will always be needed out there.

Rail renewal

With a new allotment of $121 million from Washington, a project to bring fast, modern rail to the Connecticut River valley has amassed $365 million. That’s not quite a Big Dig-sized kitty, but this money could create something far more meaningful for residents of western Massachusetts.

The work, mixing federal and state dollars, will reach as far north as Springfield — making swift, frequent train service to New Haven and then south to New York City a reality after many years of so-so service. Separately, track improvements are planned through our region. The 62 miles of track improvements planned between Springfield and New Haven will bring trips at least hourly, and double that in peak travel times. High-speed service is scheduled to begin in 2016.

New leadership in Washington, D.C., in either the White House or the prospect of a Republican-led Congress, could still throw a wrench into the gears. New England lawmakers like Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, argue that creation of a high-speed rail system for New England will spur economic development.

That’s a good argument that deserves to win the day.

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