North Central Task Force Begins Contemplating Ways to Improve Route 2
FITCHBURG -- A task force dedicated to improving Route 2 met Monday to brainstorm ways to make the highway that powers North Central Massachusetts’ economic development and links the region to Boston safer and more efficient to travel.
“Now it’s time for us to come together to work on something big,” said state Sen. Dean Tran, a Fitchburg Republican whose office coordinated the North Central Route 2 Transportation Task Force.
Its first meeting brought mayors of the region’s three cities, staff from the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority and Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, and leaders of the area chambers of commerce to talk about benefits of and challenges to fixing the highway.
State and local leaders have been talking about what to do about Route 2 for more than a decade. Concerns have included the number of lanes, road infrastructure that slows traffic, and dangerous conditions.
A major fix would be at the Concord Rotary, which is known to create traffic jams, task force members said.
“Route 2 has always been a challenge,” said Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale.
He and Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella said there needs to be a study to guide how to proceed with highway improvements.
Along with Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, they noted problem areas along Route 2, like back-ups on Merriam Avenue in Leominster. Between the three cities there are 10 exits off of Route 2, the majority of which are in Leominster.
Money to study improvements for Route 2 and a project to carry them out would primarily come from the state Department of Transportation. Tran said the project needs to get on MassDOT’s list of priority projects to secure funding.
Previous estimates studying Route 2 improvements estimated it would cost millions of dollars, DiNatale said.
As the department funds other transportation infrastructure like bike lanes and intersection fixes, task force members agreed they should put together plans to bring some of that money to the region to improve the highway.
“If (the state) can afford to put money into Assembly Square and Beantown, let’s do it here,” Hawke said.
Tran said he has reached out to U.S. Reps. Lori Trahan of the 3rd Congressional District and Jim McGovern of the 2nd District about opportunities for federal funding.
Improving Route 2 would help transportation to Boston or to the western part of the state. MART Administrator Mohammed Khan said other than the Massachusetts Turnpike, the highway is the only way to get east to west across the state.
North Central Massachusetts is being marketed as a growth area and travel destination. Presidents from the area chambers of commerce support highway improvements to make that happen.
“If we want to get people to come to our area, we have to make it easier for them,” said Carol Jacobson, president of the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce.
If money can’t be secured for one project for area improvements on Route 2, successive smaller projects could be the way.
Nolan King, an aide for Garder Rep. Jon Zlotnik, said better signage could help at parts of the highway where the number of lanes decreases.
Jacobson said flashing yield signs could help slow people down as they get onto Route 2. She often has to slam on her brakes to let people speeding drivers on.
Rep. Natalie Higgins, a Leominster Democrat, suggested incentives for people to use the commuter rail as another option for travelers to get to the Boston area.
Tran plans to take feedback gathered from the task force to present it to MassDOT.
He also plans to bring department representatives to meet with the group to present design options for Route 2.
The next task force meeting has not yet been scheduled.
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