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RMV releases plan for move

Cost details are sparse

July 27, 2009
The Registry of Motor Vehicles has released a plan it says will ensure the safety of traffic and pedestrians at the Charlton site to which it plans to move its Southbridge branch.

According to what the agency emailed the Southbridge Evening News last Friday, that plan involves just two aerial photographs of the Mass Pike rest area with a variety of labels indicating changes. Many are very basic road striping and stop lines, with indications of warning signs in various locations on Route 20 and along the rest area's truck route, across which anyone visiting the new office has to cross. It does not call for significant changes to Route 20 itself.

The most noticeable is a green line extending the sidewalk to cover the roughly 800 feet from the parking area to the new location in a vacant visitor's center. Although the email from RMV spokesman Ann Dufresne describes the plan as "modifying the existing pedestrian walkway," about two-thirds of that length doesn't now exist.

According to state Registrar Rachel Kaprelian, the agency "doesn't have a final figure" on what the changes will cost, but that they will come "at no cost to the Registry." When asked who will pay the bill, she admitted she did not know, saying it will partly depend on who owns the land on which any particular changes happen.

Southbridge DPW Director Ken Kalinowski, however, had some rough estimates of the costs, based on his experience with similar projects. Regarding the walkway, he said he'd build it out of concrete for durability, especially given its use for wheelchairs. That costs about $40 to $50 per foot, possibly more depending on how stable the underlying soil is. Road striping is cheap — "pennies per foot," he said — with only stop lines and crosswalks requiring more expensive hand painting, so that part of the project and re-striping the parking lot might cost a couple thousand dollars.

What would be expensive, Kalinowski said, is if the project finds it needs a turning lane in Route 20 or, worse yet, a traffic light there. Neither are in the plan, but Charlton Police Chief James Pervier said last week he believes they might be necessary.

Kalinowski said a traffic light would require extensive traffic and engineering study — such things must meet federal requirements based on traffic flow, speed and other factors. Such a study plus the equipment itself could easily cost more than $100,000.

Adding a turning lane is far less costly, but also requires "a rudimentary engineering study" and survey work to ensure it's done correctly, he said. that might cost "a couple thousand dollars," Kalinowski said.

Although she did not have specific details at hand, Kaprelian said Mass Highway (which controls Route 20), the Turnpike Authority and the State Police have all signed off on the Registry's plan as being safe.

"Safety is our paramount concern," she said. "... I wouldn't get involved with a project that isn't safe."

Among other things, she said Mass Highway was on Route 20 recently recording speed and traffic volume in that area. She did not have the data available, but said MHD indicated there's "not a lot of traffic" but it tends to be fast. Regarding the truck lane in the rest area, she said similar data show the trucks have already slowed to about 25 mph before reaching the proposed crossing point, but will be warned by signs to "be prepared to stop."

"Our estimation is there will be lots of people using that branch from the Pike; that went into our estimates, but some will come in from the Route 20 side as well," she said.

Kaprelian said the agency chose to move to Charlton as a way of enabling it to continue offering a "full-service branch" while addressing the current economy.

"This is a fiscal crisis we're in, and I was trying very hard to continue services in that area," she said. "... We're pleased we've got a very solid, workable alternative to closing the branch."

The Registry plans to move to Charlton in mid-August, transferring "a majority" of the Southbridge jobs there, Kaprelian added.

See Monday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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