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Safety crew at RMV hit by truck

MTA vehicle struck at new site

A construction crew works on a path to the new RMV office that is set to open today in a rest area of the Mass Pike in Charlton. File photo. (click for larger version)
August 09, 2009
CHARLTON — A local lawmaker last week issued a last-minute plea for the state Registry of Motor Vehicles to delay the opening of its new Charlton facility, which was set for today.

Meanwhile, just three days before the scheduled grand opening, a tractor-trailer truck struck a vehicle being operated by Mass Turnpike Authority crews who were, ironically enough, working on safety measures at the site.

"I have asked that they postpone this," said state Rep. Geraldo Alicea, D-Charlton, Friday afternoon.

The RMV, however, was not budging on the grand opening of its new facility at the Mass Turnpike 5-East service stop, off Route 20 in Charlton. It was scheduled to go off at 9 a.m.

"We are set to go forward to open Charlton," RMV Spokesman Ann Dufresne. "We have addressed all the concerns raised by legislators."

The Southbridge branch of the RMV was set to close its doors at 5 p.m. Friday afternoon, as part of a greater plan to close 11 facilities statewide, due to budget cuts.

Dufresne stood by the agency's position even after an accident last Tuesday, Aug. 4, when a tractor-trailer truck struck a Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA) truck hauling a trailer at the site, according to State Police Spokesman Trooper Eric Benson. Dufresne said the MTA and workers "were working on our pedestrian safety plan [to make the area safe for the new registry branch]."

The civilian truck was traveling on the truck ramp, in which a greenway separates it from the new building the branch will be housed in, as the MTA truck was turning left off the same ramp into the parking area. The civilian truck "attempted to go around a Massachusetts Turnpike Authority truck," Benson said, but struck the right rear bumper of the trailer.

The MTA vehicle suffered flat tires, broken trailer hinges and minor damage, Benson said. Nobody was injured.

Police cited the civilian truck's driver, James Claypoole, 43, of Pennsylvania, for failing to use care in passing or turning. Steven Laferriere was driving the MTA truck, Benson said.

Dufresne, saying she had seen the police report, described the accident in more detail.

"[The MTA truck was] pulling into the [McDonald's] drive in, which was one of the targeted areas to be remediated through the plan to make the area more safe," she said.

The drive-in lane has been blocked off and moved to another area, she said.

Dufresne said the State Police, Mass Highway Department and other experts had signed off on the plan. Benson could not be reached back yesterday to confirm the State Police's approval.

After hearing of the accident Friday afternoon but, Alicea and a spokesman for state Senator Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge again raised their prior concerns, as Dufresne steadfastly defended the safety plan and the move to the new site. Moore, Alicea, and other lawmakers have been voicing their concerns about the move to RMV officials.

"It certainly raises more concerns," Moore's spokesman, Jared Cain, said Friday. "I think we are still a little apprehensive about [the move]. After this incident, we would probably want additional information."

Moore's concerns come even after receiving the safety plan from the RMV. The plan the RMV provided to the Southbridge Evening News consists of two aerial photographs detailing road striping. The plan also calls for the sidewalk from the parking area to the RMV building to be extended. The plan doesn't call for changes to Route 20, of which drivers will be able to use to access the registry.

After saying she was not "aware of" any other parts of the plan, Dufresne later forwarded the News a memo, dated Friday, from state officials detailing the safety issues around the Route 20 entrance.

"Based on our review, we feel that continued use of the drive way is acceptable," wrote Mass Highway Department District 3 Highway Director Thomas Waruzila.

Despite the RMV never providing an estimate of customers it could expect at the facility, Waruzila wrote that traffic volumes would not increase so as to make use of the driveway unsafe.

Waruzila also said his agency would add temporary signs marking the new site for three or four weeks, as well as intersection warning signs. His agency also plans to add lane markings appropriately.

Alicea beat the concern drum again last week after hearing of the crash.

"It just brings it back to what I have been saying from day one," he said.

Alicea was audibly miffed last week, saying he had repeatedly asked Registrar Rachel Kaprielian for the plan, but had not seen it as of Friday. Alicea said Kaprielian "guaranteed" the safety work would be complete before Monday's opening.

"There was no reason not to have the grand opening," Alicea said Kaprielian told her.

Alicea also indicated he was unsatisfied with the plan, and said he wanted a more detailed one with more than just photographs.

Dufresne deflected his and other concerns last week and loudly complained this newspaper was blowing this story out of proportion.

"If anything, [the crash] has demonstrated that we are implementing improvements because there was a concern there," she said, her voice raising. "We have addressed all the concerns raised by legislators.

"You're going to blow this out of proportion. You're talking about a fender bender accident that occurred prior to these safety mitigations being put into place."

To back up her argument, Dufresne provided a letter Kaprielian wrote toe Alicea, Moore and several other area lawmakers. The letter, dated Friday, details the safety upgrades being made as a way to assuage lawmakers' concerns.

"I trust that you will find this information responsive to your inquiries regarding this new service option that the RMV is fortunate to be able to offer to your constituents in this fiscal climate," Kaprielian wrote.

Charlton Police James A. Pervier, who has said recently the registry never consulted him about the move to his town, didn't know about the crash and had not seen the work being done at the site. Pervier noted, however, that Turnpike motorists could be careless and speed into the new registry site.

Ryan Grannan-Doll may be reached at (508) 909-4050, or by e-mail at rgrand@stonebridgepress.com.

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

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