A head-on crash on Rte. 1 earlier this month was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for Wrentham Police Chief Bill McGrath.
The chief took to his department’s Facebook page the morning after the Aug. 4 crash, vowing to do what he can to press for safety improvements along the dangerous stretch of road.
“Too many injured and dead over the years,” he wrote, noting that the crash - caused when a leftturning car was struck - resulted in several people getting injured, including a 6-year-old Wrentham girl who suffered a head injury.
The youngster and her dad are OK, McGrath said, but pointed out that if the angle of the crash had been even just a little different it could easily have been a far worse outcome.
Now the chief is leading the charge to unite state and local influencers - including state Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, the commander at the Foxborough State Police barracks and town and Rte. 1 business leaders - to take action once and for all.
McGrath would like to see the northbound and southbound sides of Rte. 1 separated with some kind of barrier to eliminate the ability to make the dangerous left-hand turns into businesses that have been a major cause of accidents.
The campaign, “United to Divide Rte. 1,” was coined by McGrath.
A meeting with the District 5 team of the state Department of Transportation, organized with Dooley’s help, has already occurred. Dooley said he thought the Tuesday conference went well.
“DOT is going to start doing studies such as traffic and speed studies,” he said. “I’m going to work with the chief to coordinate with the town to bring them in on the next meetings and work on identifying and helping to address all the issues to make sure the process moves smoothly.”
Concern about the safety of that stretch of Rte. 1 has been rising steadily as development has increased, and not just in Wrentham.
Following a 2017 fatality a little bit farther up the road at Plainville’s George Street, that town’s selectmen turned up the volume on getting their concerns heard and, with Dooley’s assistance, got the attention of Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. The outcry resulted in the addition of a row of flexisticks as a barrier to prevent left-hand turns from both directions at that intersection. However, Dooley noted, the town had already been pecking away at the issue for about 10 years.
“There was a lot of the background work already done and I was fortunate enough to have the lieutenant governor down in Plainville as it was heating up, so she became a vocal advocate,” he said. “It went quickly by government standards, but not as quickly as it seemed from the outside.”
Dooley is confident the process this time around “will be much quicker than Plainville, and I won’t have to involve the lieutenant governor again,” but if things don’t move along as well as everyone would like, he added, “if that’s what it takes, then so be it.”
“Obviously, some things are easier and can be more immediate, such as no-turn signs, adjusting speed limits, etc.,” Dooley said. “Unfortunately, things such as the flexible posts or other barriers take more time, as they have to facilitate with engineering, build it into the schedule, and determine exactly what areas of Rte. 1 need to be addressed.”
Hilary Hahn, of Sharon, whose husband Aaron was killed in that 2017 accident in Plainville when his motorcycle collided with a car turning out of George Street, agrees that dividing Rte. 1 to prevent left turns should happen.
She wonders, as others do, why safety measures aren’t already in place, considering the area’s rapid development. A recent addition is the new SuperCharged indoor go kart racing facility, already a highly popular destination that draws traffic from both directions. McGrath said the owners there are part of the United to Divide effort.
There is also a fairly new apartment complex nearby, The Oasis at Plainville, as well as the upcoming addition of a retail marijuana shop at The Tavern from Tower Square and new development rising nearby in Wrentham.
“We’ve got the whole Ledgeview complex (coming in) at Madison Street in Wrentham,” McGrath said.
The site includes an already partially occupied apartment complex that will have up to 500 units once complete, along with hotels, a yet-to-open 110 Grill, and an upcoming assisted living facility.
“So we’ve got all of this happening really within the last year, and throw into that the casino, and throw in Gillette Stadium,” he said.
McGrath said adding a barrier and requiring drivers to proceed to the turn-around points at nearby intersections is well worth a couple of minutes’ inconvenience if it prevents an accident and saves lives.
The writing is on the wall, as far as the chief is concerned, and he’d like to see action taken sooner than later.
“If we can get the center line (flexible) barriers up, if that can happen quickly, then they (DOT) can go on to do their engineering studies and anything that goes with more permanent changes,” McGrath said.
McGrath said it would be ideal to see the state put up concrete jersey barriers like those that were installed many years ago farther north along a dangerous stretch of Rte. 1 in Walpole and Sharon. He recalls all too well how that section of the road was before the barriers, as the traffic began to increase along with the development.
“I was a Sharon police officer back in that day when there were no dividers and it was called Death Valley,” he said.
Now looking at the Wrentham section of the road, he said, “I don’t need to look in the past to tell you the more buildings you build on Rte. 1, the more likely you’re going to have a crash, you’re going to have a fatality. Just trust me, I’ve been a cop for 20 years.”
While McGrath acknowledges “we may not have a thousand accidents” on the Wrentham and Plainville stretch, he points out, “the ones we do have are bad.”
The Aug. 4 crash? “It was a serious crash,” he said. “Yeah, we’re lucky no one died this time. I just don’t want it to take a death.”
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