Whately’s Egypt Road could still close
WHATELY — Whether Egypt Road will become a dead-end road or a crossing point for trains is back on the Board of Selectmen’s table.
On Wednesday, 10 residents demanded to know why the selectmen decided to keep the road open.
The group of mostly parents said they believe the dirt road is already dangerous with speeding vehicles using it as a shortcut to Long Plain Road. And now, they said, they’ll have to contend with a 60-mile-per-hour train rocking through the neighborhood, jeopardizing the safety of their children and possibly lowering their property values.
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.
But now it is part of the Knowledge Corridor project to bring a train stop to Greenfield and Northampton and restore the Vermonter to the Connecticut River Line.
After listening for two hours Wednesday, selectmen Jonathan Edwards and Paul Newlin — Selectman Joyce Palmer Fortune was not present at the meeting — decided to hold a third public hearing in late April to hear the concerns of residents, business owners and users of the road and conduct a traffic count through a Franklin Regional Council of Government program.
“We have a contest of rights. The rights of residents to determine the use of the road versus the rights of nonresidents to determine the use,” said Newlin. “As long as the road is being used, there’s a reason to keep it open. When residents bought the property, there was no understanding that the road would someday be closed,” he added.
The residents raised the issue again after the selectmen had voted in February to keep the dirt road open and have the state Department of Transportation upgrade the railroad crossing that cuts across the center of the road. For $400,000 to $500,000, the improved crossing would include gates, flashing lights, audible warning devices and pavement.
Since it’s a county road, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments would make the ultimate decision if the selectmen recommended road closure, a process that could take three months.
Safety concerns weighed heavily — although in different ways — on both the selectmen and the residents. The board’s original decision was influenced by the advice of fire, police and highway department officials. In February, Fire Chief John Hannum, Deputy Fire Chief Gary Stone and Highway Superintendent Keith Bardwell worried emergency vehicle access to the homes would be cut off if the road closed.
The residents, the other hand, complained that since the road opened 14 years ago, it has been a nuisance ... with fast drivers endangering young children and pets. In 23 years, they pointed out, an emergency ambulance had only crossed the road twice, a figure Hannum confirmed.
“It’s our feeling as well as Mass DOT’s that safety is served by closing the road,” said resident John Frangie.
Edwards countered, however, that the issues the residents face are not new and won’t be exacerbated by a train.
“You’re sitting at a pivot point,” Frangie said. “The wrongs we have here will be exacerbated. The road will be re-engineered and there will be more access for speeding versus the opportunity to make things quieter.” The impact road closure would have on two businesses, Amherst Trucking and Golonka Farm, was also a factor. Jim and Jan Golonka were the sole dissenters of road closure, arguing that speeding is a problem on many roads and they did not see it as an issue on Egypt Road.
Amherst Trucking was not present.
“For someone who made a business decision ... my guess is he’d want to be compensated because the value of his property dropped because there is no access,” Edwards said.
The residents argued the concern for their families superseded someone’s business plans. In turn, their property values might drop with new rail traffic.
“Our road and our neighborhood is being changed,” said Frangie. “You can’t make the argument of what is there is the same thing once we get a commuter rail.” Closed or open, Edwards promised he would address safety on the road.
The only problem is it needs to be paved to have a posted speed limit, a scenario residents also dislike.