Better to light a single candle….

The map above shows MA State highway Route 111 as it crosses Interstate 495 in Boxborough.  This little stretch of road has been the source of considerable frustration (perhaps even elevated blood pressure) for me over the past ten years.  Yesterday I actually made a constructive step as a citizen to correct what I believe is a problem, instead of continuing to complain about the situation to anyone who happens to be in my car, while I wait for an unnecessary red light to change to green in my direction.

I have lived in Harvard, MA, and have been driving through these intersections above for forty years.  What changed ten years ago was the installation of three traffic lights at the points diagrammed above, in a stretch of road about one-third of a mile long.  Until that happened, cars entering Route 111 would stop at a stop sign, look both ways, and turn when the coast was clear.  Then, about the turn of this century, megacorporation Cisco acquired the property in Boxborough of NEC Corporation, and they planned to expand their presence in those facilities.  However, economic conditions suffered not long after the acquisition, and Cisco never actually added the number of people in their original plans.  In the meantime, they paid for — and the state installed — these three traffic lights, which are the only ones on this route for more than 10 miles in one direction and for 6 miles in the other.

Thus, the volume of traffic which suggested the need for these lights has never materialized.  To make matters worse, the synchronization of the signals seems to have been poorly designed, since they require drivers eastbound on Route 111 to stop at Swanson Road at least 70% of the time, and often to stop at one of the other two lights, as well, before continuing their eastbound journey.  This adds about 3-5 minutes of wasted time, and certainly causes the expenditure of unnecessary fuel consumption while idling at the lights, often when there is no cross traffic at all.

Being a Type A personality who grew up in New York and is reluctant to wait patiently for most things, I have endured these frustrations quietly until yesterday.  Despite brief flights of fantasy, when I would buy an AK-47 and shoot out all the signals, I took no action at all.  I did seriously consider taking an hour of my time to do a detailed traffic count at one or more of these intersections, so I could demonstrate to the powers-that-be the folly of this situation.

But today I decided to place a phone call to discuss the problem rationally with a traffic engineer responsible for the safety and efficiency of the roadways in our marvelous Commonwealth, and that effort was rewarded most graciously.

A short bit of browsing the state’s website took me to the Highway Department’s page, and I found some phone numbers to begin the process (  Lo, and Behold!  A real person answered the phone!  And she was helpful immediately!  The person to whom she transferred me was an engineer for a different district, but…NO PROBLEM!  He answered his phone, too, and then he gave me the name and number of a person in the proper district, too.  After many years of dealing with automated phone response systems, and floating around menu-hell, I was delighted to be talking with real people.

Anyway, to protect their abilities to continue being responsive to our citizenry, I won’t mention their names and numbers, but the bottom line is that I reached the traffic engineer who handles maintenance for these very intersections, and he explored the situation with me at length.  Then he spoke with the traffic engineer responsible for the design and operation of the traffic controls there, and he CALLED ME BACK in less than an hour, to tell me what he had learned.  He shared with me that the design engineer had also agreed to ask his supervisor, who was head of Traffic Engineering for the District, that a traffic count be done, given the realities of the current situation.  Although there was no promise that this would actually be done, it certainly was a step in the right direction.  Finally, this morning, he called me once more to share something about how the signals had been set on June 2nd, so as to encourage the smooth flow of traffic, and he wanted to be sure I understood that this had been done already.

I don’t recall having such positive interactions with a government agency in at least thirty years, and my experience trying to alleviate administrative snafus in private corporations who provide telephone, banking, travel, insurance, computer, and other services have been even less satisfying during that same period.

Did it accomplish anything tangible?  I don’t know yet.  I will observe carefully, and I will wait for a month or so to see if it does improve.

I do know this: if I need to pursue this improvement further, I will be able to do so with the confidence that I can contact the talented, hard-working people responsible for these activities, and we will be able to problem-solve together any issues which impede the safety and well-being of the people using our roads — including me.

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1 Response to Better to light a single candle….

  1. Sarah says:

    One more reason to follow the “it never hurts to ask” rule… good for you!

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