TEWKSBURY — As part of an ongoing process to improve safety and align compliance with statutory speed limits, the Tewksbury DPW will begin implementing changes to road signage with new posted limits in a phased approach.
According to Town Engineer Kevin Hardiman, the changes are part of a process that has been going on for nearly four years after a speed study revealed that several roadways in the community were not signed appropriately for the residential density, traffic flow and geometry of the roads.
In 2016, Hardiman and DPW Superintendent Brian Gilbert explained to the Town Crier that certain streets in the town have special permits from the state that date back to 1954 and the conditions on these roads, now that the town has grown, need to be revisited.
Engineering studies were used to set the new limits.
“We use an 85th percentile benchmark,” said Hardiman, a process by which vehicles are documented going at or below a specific speed on a certain stretch of roadway.
That data is combined with the features of the road such as hills and curves, number of intersecting streets, and historical accident data to determine the appropriate speed for a given zone.
According to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 90, sections 17 and 18, recommended speed limits for vehicles, both posted and unposted, are based on the types of conditions present on a given section of road. For example, thickly settled residential areas, when unposted, are presumed to be 30 MPH zones. Divided highways are 50 MPH unless posted otherwise, school zones are 20 MPH, and so forth.
Monies voted at the October 2016 Town Meeting funded a traffic study which was conducted by the DPW in conjunction with a traffic consulting firm. Factors such as road geometry, hills, curves, side streets, and historical accident data is evaluated to create a recommendation for a safe speed for the particular stretch of road.
In December 2019, the Tewksbury selectboard voted unanimously to approve the updated speed limit recommendations for Andover Street, Shawsheen Street, and Whipple Road. The changes, approved by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, resulted in the following recommendations: reducing Andover Street from 45 MPH to 40 MPH from approximately Deering Drive to the Andover town line; reducing Shawsheen Street from 40 MPH to 35 MPH from Ronald Drive to approximately Diane Drive, and from approximately Pinewood Avenue to approximately Trinity Court; and extending the 25 MPH section of Whipple Road near Pleasant Street from 922 Whipple to 758 Whipple Road.
The changes will be gradually implemented over the next several weeks and will include the use of the town’s portable message boards as a first step. Hardiman said that the Tewksbury police department will then use their speed limit info board as a transition, and follow with informational warnings for drivers.
“We want to educate people; none of these changes will happen overnight,” said Hardiman.
Tewksbury Police Chief Ryan Columbus said, “Once these speeds limits are reduced, we will be working on providing a level of education to the community through message boards, social media posts and through our website. We also will be offering a 30 day grace period on these locations and providing warnings instead of citations if people are within the old posted limits.”
Columbus and Hardiman both said that the goal of the speed limit changes is to reduce injuries and fatalities associated with motor vehicle accidents and to ensure pedestrian safety in the community.