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).
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
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.