Stop-And-Go Traffic Plagues Route 9
By by J. ROBINSON MEAD, Contributing Writer
Traffic in the Amherst area, especially along Route 9, has long been a problem for students and employees of the College. With the construction on the Calvin Coolidge Bridge set to begin this spring, traffic volume in the area is likely to get worse.

The planned renovation of the Calvin Coolidge Bridge, which connects Hadley with Northampton, will only exacerbate the traffic problems of Route 9 and the area around it.

According to the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway), the bridge is used by over 33,000 cars daily.

Disruptions in the area's public transportation system have also contributed to traffic problems. The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) is experiencing a shortage of drivers.

These shortages affect townspeople as well as students, causing more townspeople to drive rather than wait for overcrowded buses to arrive later than expected. Routes have been adjusted to compensate for the shortage.

Route 9 is in many ways central to the problem of traffic in Amherst. Many area businesses, especially in Hadley, draw heavy traffic to the highway. Route 9 is also the main route from Smith College to both Amherst and the University of Massachusetts.

Traffic along Route 9 is frequently stop-and-go for much of its length between Amherst and Northampton.

Amherst residents see the increase in traffic as a consequence of the return of students to the area.

Eva Schiffer, a member of the Amherst Select board, usually "expects an immediate great increase of traffic in the area" following the beginning of the academic year.

Anne Awad, a member of the Amherst select board blames the greater-than-normal traffic backups on an increased number of residents in town.

"The town is growing. We have 10 new neighborhoods of 20 to 50 houses, each with two or three cars. We didn't see the same drop-off that we usually see during the summer this year," she said.

"There's a lot going on now in Hadley. There's a lot of business in the area now that attracts customers from all over, and Amherst gets hit by people passing through," Amherst Select Board member Dolly Jolly said.

Dick Barber of MassHighway's District 2 office said that construction on the Coolidge Bridge is expected to begin in late spring 2001 and last for as long as a year and a half. The redesigned bridge should be able to carry four lanes of traffic (instead of the three it currently handles) and should be safer in the event of an earthquake.

"We will be working double shifts-day and night-in order to minimize the impact on the area," Barber said.

MassHighway has installed an "intelligent transportation system" at the Northampton State Police station. The bridge will be monitored by cameras and officials at the State Police station will be able to control traffic signals to ensure safety in emergency situations.

The bridge is expected to carry two-way traffic at all times through the duration of the renovation. At this time, due in part to the current driver shortage, the PVTA has not started to plan extended service during the renovations.

Last Wednesday's issue of The Daily Collegian estimated that buses would be running about every half hour because of the shortage, whereas in the past they had run every 15 minutes.

In addition to the bridge renovation, MassHighway is planning a recoordination of the traffic signals along Route 9 between Amherst and Northampton, with particular attention to the Hampshire Mall and Wal-Mart as well as the new Holiday Inn.

MassHighway has been criticized by town officials in Hadley for not sufficiently consulting local officials before making in construction plans. As reported in the July 12 issue of The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Hadley Town Manager Robin Crosbie was not pleased with MassHighway. "We haven't seen any of the final plans. We are totally in the dark," she said.

Schiffer predicts that the town's traffic problems will settle down in the coming weeks. "People haven't settled into a pattern yet. Once that happens, we should see some improvement," Schiffer said.

Issue 03, Submitted 2000-09-20 19:31:10