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Rt. 57 higer priority for Mass. Highway

By Katelyn Gendron-List, Staff Writer

AGAWAM There's new hope for those who've been working tirelessly to see the dangerous and congested intersection at Feeding Hills Center amended as Mass Highway has just elevated the Route 57 project from low to medium.

According to Mayor Richard Cohen, the completion of Route 57 as well as Route 187 would significantly reduce the amount of traffic coming from Agawam, Southwick, West Springfield and Westfield into the Feeding Hills Center intersection due to Route 57 stopping at that junction.

"This is a very dangerous intersection and it's just getting worse," Cohen said. "Having the project moved from a low to medium priority is really a step in the right direction."

According to Richard Theroux, Agawam City Clerk and Chairman of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Board, which grants him a seat on the Metropolitan Planning Organization, he was the one who made the motion to gather votes to make Route 57 a higher priority.

"Route 57 is long overdue and it's not going to happen over night," Theroux said. "This project has to be funded and the funding is what Senator Buoniconti is considering now."

According to Theroux and Cohen, they have met with Massachusetts Senator Stephen Buoniconti (D-West Springfield) who is working to acquire state funding for this project via a Transportation Bond Bill through the legislature.

"I'm trying to get the state involved because the previous administration did not come through on Route 57," Buoniconti said. "Through the Transportation Bond Bill we can get the language in there for certain projects like 57 but ultimately the governor decides which projects become state funded."

According to Buoniconti, he would like to see the state "pitch in" otherwise the town will have to absorb most of the costs.

"You can't close your eyes to the fact that Western Massachusetts gets very little funding for these projects," Deborah Dachos, director of Planning and Community Development for the town of Agawam said. "It really should be a high priority but that would mean that no other projects in the region would get constructed."

Dachos was also the Project Coordinator for Phase I of the Route 57 project. She stated that originally Route 57 went from Mill Street to Southwick but that the State approached her towards the end of the project because they wanted to split it into two phases.

"We were assured that Phase II would begin directly after Phase I and that was in the 1990s," Dachos said. "But then Mass Highway just dropped the project."

However temporary changes to provide a more immediate effect on the Feeding Hills Center intersection are currently being considered by Cohen, Theroux and Buoniconti. According to Buoniconti, temporary changes include the synchronization of lights, the painting of the severely faded lines on the road, and making sure that the signage is proper.

But according to Cohen the temporary changes to the Feeding Hills Center intersection will provide only temporary relief and the changes can't be made at the expense of completing the overall project.

"Hopefully in 10 years the project will be completed ," Cohen said.