Note: This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. on Monday to include comment from Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan.
A MassDOT official said Monday Andover does not need Massachusetts Department of Transportation approval to change Elm Square traffic and pedestrian signal timing, contradicting statements by a MassDOT engineer, as well as Town officials, since five-year-old Sidney Olson was hit and killed by a truck in the intersection earlier this month.
“The Town of Andover retains the right to modify the signal timing plans to best address the traffic demands for all road users without any such approval,” MassDOT spokeswoman Kristen Pennucci said in an email to Andover News Monday.
At last week’s Andover Select Board meeting, Town Manager Andrew Flanagan said the Town was powerless to change the timing until MassDOT approved the change, and that the state would not make such changes until a traffic study was completed. Asked for more detail the day after the meeting, Flanagan referenced a 1982 agreement between the state and Andover, which he said prevent signal timing changes.
More coverage on Andover News:
- Andover Repainting Street Lines After Fatal Crash
- Speed Not A Factor In Fatal Andover Crash
- State Looking At Elm Square Safety
- Elm Square Safety Fix Delayed By Studies, Traffic Concerns
- Officials Identify 5-Year-Old Crash Victim
- Town Pressured To Make Elm Square Safer
- Witnesses Recall Horror Of Fatal Crash
- Child Hit, Killed In Elm Street Crash
On Monday, Flanagan said there were inconsistencies between Pennucci’s comments and a May 15 email from John Gregg, a MassDOT traffic operations engineer, to Andover Police Traffic Safety Officer Glen Ota. Gregg’s email supported Flanagan’s interpretation of the 1982 agreement.
“I will be reaching out to MassDOT to ask for clarification,” Flanagan said. Andover News has also asked the agency for a clarification and will update this story accordingly.
Pedestrians have complained about the intersection for decades, including the signal timing, which allows traffic to turn right into crosswalks when walk signs are lit. The Olson family said the walk light was lit when Sidney crossed the street on May 9.
WalkBikeAndover began circulating a petition the day after the crash, demanding the immediate installation of “No Turn On Red” signs and programming traffic lights to turn red in all directions when walk signs are lit. The alternative transportation advocacy group said the Town has resisted those changes, prioritizing traffic flow through the intersection adjacent to Memorial Hall Library.
Pennucci said the 1982 agreement requires Andover to maintain signals, and also prevents the Town from removing signals or changing their layout without MassDOT approval. But “the actual operation of said traffic signal (timing and sequencing of the lights) is not subject to the agreement.”
She also said even if the 1982 agreement prevented such changes, amending it “is not a complicated and/or lengthy process.”
“An amended agreement would be prepared with sign-off by MassDOT and the Town, Pennuci said. The traffic signals at this location are not operated or maintained by MassDOT, the Town of Andover holds that responsibility.”
Photo: Cars turn right into an Elm Square crosswalk while the walk light is lit on Friday evening (Dave Copeland/Andover News).
May 22 MassDOT Statement On Elm Square
Thank you for reaching out to MassDOT to ask about the rules and regulations concerning the intersection of Route 28 (Main Street/North Main Street) and Elm and Central Streets in Andover. The 1982 agreement that you referenced is what is called a Traffic Control Agreement (TCA) is a standard process that is followed when Federal Aid funds are used for the construction of roadway improvements. The TCA is used to define the location and function all of the traffic control devices that have been included in the official design plans for the project. The intent is to document agreement between the Municipality and the State that, in this case, Andover will not modify or remove any of the traffic control devices without the written consent of the Department of Highways. This is a requirement set forth by the Federal Highway Administration under Title 23, US Code Sections 109(d) and 116 to protect the integrity of the Federal Aid funds used to build the project and ensure that the official design plans and traffic control devices used remain in place.
However, while the TCA may include the requirement to maintain the traffic signals as one of the traffic control devices listed in the 1982 agreement, the actual operation of said traffic signal (timing and sequencing of the lights) is not subject to the agreement. The Town of Andover retains the right to modify the signal timing plans to best address the traffic demands for all road users without any such approval by MassDOT. Reconstruction of the intersection or removal of the traffic control devices from that 1982 agreement would need to be document and approved, but it is not a complicated and/or lengthy process to do so. An amended agreement would be prepared with signoff by MassDOT and the Town. The traffic signals at this location are not operated or maintained by MassDOT, the Town of Andover holds that responsibility.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation
John Gregg’s May 15 Email to Traffic Safety Officer Glen Ota
In light of the tragedy, I believe a Road Safety Audit (RSA) will be scheduled very soon for the intersection. Our District Highway Director Paul Stedman has already reached out to Town Manager Andrew Flanagan on this matter. In the meantime, our safety engineers in Boston HQ are assembling crash data in preparation for the RSA.
As to the signal operation, there is a Traffic Control Agreement (TCA) on file (#4301 – attached) that requires the Town to seek MassDOT approval for any changes in the “sequence or operation” of the signal. This would include changing to an exclusive pedestrian phase and adding no turn on red.
9 thoughts on “Town, MassDOT Dispute Elm Square Signal Oversight”
You’ve perfectly captured the operation of that intersection in your photo.
15 minutes in Elm Square Friday evening was quite educational.
How can Ms. Pennucci say that “timing and sequencing of the lights” is not subject to the 1982 agreement when the agreement says in section V.B. “Changes in the sequence or operation of traffic control signals located in the Federal Aid Project area are not to be made without the written approval of the DEPARTMENT.”?
Despite the late morning edits made to this morning’s 10:30 am “Elm Square Signal Change” article (and headline) which then
-added the Town Manager’s emailed comment (to Mr. Copeland an hour earlier) that Ms. Pennucci’s statement conflicts with guidance from MassDOT requiring prior approval for Town signal changes, pursuant to the 1982 agreement, and
-included the concurring May 15 email to the Town from John Gregg of MassDOT which cited the plain language of the 1982 agreement (requiring the Town to seek MassDOT approval for any changes in the “sequence or operation” of the signal),
the article still leads with the statement that “Andover does not need Massachusetts Department of Transportation approval to change Elm Square traffic and pedestrian signal timing, the state agency said Monday, seemingly contradicting arguments from Town officials since five-year-old Sidney Olson was hit and killed by a truck in the intersection earlier this month.”
The feelings felt by Andover townspeople in response to the tragic death of Sidney are still very much heightened. Many among us are grieving, frustrated, and upset. We are all anxious to get more information quickly. We are all eager for the traffic engineers and experts to make any necessary changes as swiftly as possible. However, it would a mischaracterization to say the Town is making “arguments” for not being able to make unilateral changes to downtown signals. As soon as this tragic accident occurred, the Town urgently and purposefully commenced work in partnership with the MassDOT and other state officials, to fully investigate the accident and to consider ways to make meaningful change downtown. Taking the time to be thoughtful and accurate in reporting will certainly aid readers and residents considerably while they navigate the complexities involved in addressing everyone’s shared safety concerns.
Please clear your browser’s cache. The lead of the article was also changed following receipt of Andrew Flanagan’s email on Monday.
What do we (the residents) need to do to have our concerns heard the first dozen times, so that someone doesn’t have to die before the town will take action? This “urgent” and “purposeful” work should have happened years ago. The town is demonstrating a pattern here… Elm St., Elm Square.
Where are the communications to MA DOT requesting approval for a change of signal sequencing?
Town of Andover, MA: Can we at least get quick agreement to do a few-month trial of new light settings, with walk and green-turn indications not simultaneously given? All concerned say that would be safer and a trial would allow assessment of real impact!
Also, according to this agreement, unless there have been amendments to it that we don’t have copies of, we’re in violation of several of the parking prohibitions, most notably Elm St west side from 100′ north of High St. to Main St. (in front of the pediatric dentist, near Palmers) and North Main St east side from 200′ north of Lewis St. to Elm St. (in front of Perfectos).