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Officials to change traffic plans

Currently motorists at the intersection of Eastern Avenue and Wilbraham Road can go straight across to access State Street or Catherine Street. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD David Panagore, the city's chief development officer, said there is a "consensus of resolution" between state and local officials over addressing the concerns of residents in the Mason Square area on the planned traffic changes to the State Street corridor.

Panagore said one meeting took place after last Wednesday's emotional public City Council sub-committee meeting conducted at the Rebecca Johnson School. City Councilor Bud Williams told Reminder Publications that another meeting should take place this week.

"The state has expressed its willingness to expedite the changes [to the plan]," Panagore said. He cautioned, though, that any changes will have go through a series of approvals from various offices and could take a good deal of time.

The City Council meeting took place several days after Congressman Richard Neal conducted a press conference announcing the completion of the near $14 million makeover for State Street. The plan includes infrastructure improvements, landscaping and changes to major intersections.

Williams told the over 100 people gathered at the Wednesday meeting, "To me the plan doesn't make sense.I hope and pray we can stop this."

The heart of the controversy was the intention to prevent drivers on Eastern Avenue from cutting across State Street and Wilbraham Road to Catherine Street. The plan would have motorists turning right from Eastern Avenue onto Wilbraham Road, and then turning left onto Rutland Street, followed by another turn onto State Street.

The changes would also create an additional ten parking spaces in front of the shopping plaza in Mason Square where State Representative Benjamin Swan's office is located.

Swan said he had no objections to the plan except for the changes in Mason Square that would create "a tremendous safety hazard" and a "traffic nightmare."

Engineer John J. Bechard of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., the company responsible for the plan, explained the changes were made to try to improve the traffic flow through one of the city's busiest intersections. He also said there were a number of public and neighborhood meetings designed to gather the input of residents and to hear criticisms since 2004. He said currently the Square has the longest traffic light in the city and businesses don't have enough parking.

Swan said that he was only aware of two meetings, which he attended, over the last three years.

Debbie Rice of the Old Hill Neighborhood Council, one of the neighborhoods that border the Square, said the council never approved the plan.

Residents were not placated by Bechard's explanations.

"This is our community and we need to control what happens in our community," Jay Griffin said.

"This is a racial issue. I don't care what anybody says," Carol Aranjo said. Aranjo compared what was happening to the Square to what happened to the North End when Interstate 91 was built residents were told the Interstate would be something positive, but many lost their homes to the construction.

Lorenzo Gaines asked how the plan would affect the location of a new library in Mason Square. He didn't receive an answer to that question.

Residents also wondered how the traffic plan would affect the fire station on Eastern Avenue when its trucks must get across the Square. No explanation was offered.

Kevin Crenshaw, an optician, would like to open a business in the Square, the neighborhood in which he was raised. The traffic plan was making him think twice, though.

"I could open a business anywhere, but I choose to open it in my own neighborhood," he said.

Former City Councilor Mo Jones said, "The so-called leaders in our communities are selling us out."