Foxboro common

Foxboro Common. (Staff file photo by Mike George)

During the years he served as superintendent of the town’s highway department, the late Al Truax invited ridicule with his oft-stated remedy for easing traffic woes in the town center — re-routing Route 140 straight through Foxboro’s picturesque Common.

We couldn’t help recalling Al’s incendiary proposition, and the inevitable eye-rolls that ensued, while reviewing the findings of a recently released traffic study that outlines a laundry list of difficulties in the downtown area.

Commissioned by the board of selectmen and released publicly last week to help gauge the impact of redevelopment plans for the former fire station property, this analysis reinforces what most townspeople already knew: namely that peak traffic volumes routinely overburden the downtown roadway network, prompting lengthy vehicle queues on the primary roads feeding the Common rotary.

Based on field observations, the comprehensive report describes significant delays entering the rotary during morning and afternoon commuting windows. The worst, by far, are situated on Main Street, where vehicle queues reached nearly a half-mile in length. Less onerous, but still problematic, are the approaches from Mechanic and Central streets.

In addition to providing a baseline on traffic conditions, the report also identifies a number of characteristic (and problematic) driving behaviors, including:

* A tendency by motorists to use the outer travel lane exclusively, presumably to make a quicker and more straightforward exit from rotary traffic;

* A notable lack of turn-signal use, both for changing lanes or exiting the rotary;

* Aggressive driving, with motorists accelerating rapidly while entering and then circling the rotary.

The study suggests these characteristics are at least partly responsible for numerous rear-end collisions, either while entering the rotary from Main Street or while braking suddenly to avoid pedestrians in crosswalks; for “sideswipe” collisions when motorists change lanes suddenly or attempt to exit the rotary from an inside lane; and for broadside collisions most often caused by running stop signs.

While most readers can probably add personal testimony to the report’s findings, it should be noted that traffic snarls in the center of town aren’t exactly a recent phenomenon. Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, with The Foxboro Company at peak employment and fully engaged in manufacturing locally, daily shift changes triggered gridlock each and every weekday afternoon.

But the prediction that traffic conditions will continue to worsen organically, even in a no-build redevelopment scenario, dictates that remedial steps are in order.

Several such steps outlined in the traffic study had been discussed publicly last spring before being tabled by selectmen. They included making Rockhill Street one-way, entering the Common only, while installing traffic “splitter” islands within the rotary road surface itself – one on the curve between South and Central streets (opposite Memorial Hall), a second between the approaches to Cocasset and Mechanic streets and a third at the head of Main Street.

According to the study, these islands would split approaching traffic into a left-hand “through traffic” land continuing around the Common and a right-hand lane for vehicles exiting on one of the seven feeder roads.

Lacking expertise in such matters, we’re not entirely sure if this approach would ease traffic flow around the Common rotary or just make a bad situation even worse. But then, even those traffic engineers who authored the study can’t answer that question — which is why they advocate a temporary trial run before implementing any permanent changes.

That said, selectmen deserve credit for pursuing this issue, which is critical to any plans for revitalizing the town center. And unlike Al Truax’s plan, this one would at least keep the Common intact.

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