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DOT decision makers: do the math

By Lawrence Abrams

In full disclosure, I have lived in Becket for over 30 years and have been a critic of the DOT’s plans to develop the Algerie interchange. I have studied the issue intensively and have concluded people who think they will not be affected by the Mass DOT decision because they live nowhere near the proposed interchange sites, must think again. A wrong decision would waste tens of millions of taxpayer dollars is not likely to produce true development as promised by the project’s advocates.

Representative Smitty Pignatelli obtained $75,000 to fund a DOT study to decide which new turnpike interchange would benefit his constituency. He was interested in bringing economic development to promote better opportunities for the people he serves. He was interested in a 10-year or more “conversation” to decide the best choice which may simply be no choice at all. After all, his colleague Senator Donald Humason has a problem with Westfield traffic congestion at exit 2, so doesn’t it make sense to find a new interchange between exits 2 and 3? Exit 2.5 is not a new idea and was proposed several times before this study, but fortunately it never materialized.

The DOT has announced that it will soon release its recommendation as to which, if any, of the contending exits—Algerie Road, Blandford Maintenance Center or Blandford Service Plaza—will be passed onto the State Legislature for further consideration. It is scheduled for October 2nd, at the DOT Building on 270 Main Street in Lenox from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event is open to the public and our comments will be solicited after the Working Study Group session.

Dr. Harold Ware, an economist and Becket homeowner for 16 years, completed a comparison of the costs and impacts of the three options using the data given to the DOT’s Study Working Group of community leaders including Senator Hinds and Representative Pignatelli, during their meeting on February 7, 2019. (Coincidentally during the meeting, Senator Hinds made the motion to advance the three alternatives, Algerie and two in Blandford, to the next study phase.)

Based on his analysis of the data presented to the Study Working Group Dr. Ware, who was a vice president of a major economics consulting firm, concludes that:

• the Algerie option costs the most; Algerie diverts fewest trips from Exits 2, and 3 (Lee and Westfield);
• Blanford Service Plaza reduces vehicle miles the most; the Blanford Exits reduce vehicle hours much more than the Algerie option;
• the cost per mile reduced is higher for Algerie than either of the other interchanges; and
• the cost per vehicle hour saved is over 60 percent higher for Algerie than either of the other options.

Dr. Ware’s overall conclusion is the data imply that Algerie is the least effective, most costly of the 3 options studied. This does not necessarily imply that either of the Blanford options should be approved.

Therefore, given these data and the opposition from our community, Algerie should be eliminated from contention at the October 2nd meeting. If it is not, is it possible that money and influence from trucking and commercial interests are keeping Algerie in contention? I don’t have any evidence that this lobbying is the case; but, why else would Algerie remain under consideration?

Indeed, the true cost of Algerie road could much higher than the $38 million DOT estimate, perhaps as high as $60 million, once you factor the expenses needed to turn rural Becket’s Bonny Rigg Hill Road into a conduit for the estimated thousands of passenger and commercial vehicle trips via the Algerie Interchange every day! Policy makers must also factor externalities—i.e., the side effects or unintended consequences of an activity that imposes costs (or benefits) on others that are not reflected in the direct costs (or revenues) of the goods or services being produced. The potentially large negative externalities include environmental and quality of life impacts of all this traffic that could devastate our community and make it less desirable to those who seek to enjoy the recreational and culture activities that the Berkshires offer.

Lawrence Abrams is a resident of Becket and coordinator of the opposition to the Algerie interchange.

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