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State urged to consider new Pike exit.

Byline: Betty Lilyestrom

The two state legislators have passed on to state transportation officials a Leicester selectman's suggestion for a Massachusetts Turnpike exit and entrance at Route 56 in North Oxford and said the idea deserves further review.

Sen. Edward M. Augustus Jr., D-Worcester, and Rep. John J. Binienda, D-Worcester, sent a joint letter to Bernard Cohen, secretary of the Executive Office of Transportation; state Highway Commissioner Luisa M. Paiewonsky; and Alan LeBovidge, executive director of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

In a letter to Selectman Thomas V. Brennan Jr., who came up with the proposal, Mr. Binienda said the two legislators found it "an interesting proposal with the potential to bring increased economic activity to the area".

Mr. Brennan actually came up with the proposal in November 1996, when selectmen were discussing improving traffic control around the Route 56-Stafford Street intersection.

"I'm not talking about a Route 146-type connector, by any means," he said then. "The Pike goes right over Route 56, so all it would require would be simple on- and off-ramps. It wouldn't put any additional multi-axle traffic into one of our communities, but I think it would open up possibilities for economic development for us."

Mr. Brennan revived the idea in 2003 and again in January of this year as a means of of opening Leicester and Oxford to greater economic development. The ramps would be located in North Oxford, just south of the Leicester line, which is where the turnpike crosses Route 56, the north-south highway througn Leicester and much of Oxford.

In their letter to state transportation officials, Mr. Augustus and Mr. Binienda said Leicester selectmen, who backed Mr. Brennan's proposal, believe that a turnpike entrance in the area "would increase commercial interest by accommodating the type of client that appeals to developers."

"The town has taken numerous steps over the past five years to improve the economic viability of the town, including re-zoning Route 9 West for business, keeping its bond rate at 5 percent and maintaining one of the lowest tax rates in the region," the legislators' letter said. "The town has been diligent in creating a fiscally sound environment and prudent fiscal policies.

"We have reviewed the selectmen's proposal and believe it is something that deserves further review. We agree that cities and towns should be able to pursue development that improves their economic health while mitigating their dependency on state aid, particularly in times of economic hardship."

Realizing that the issue would affect other communities in the area, Mr. Brennan arranged to have copies of his proposal sent to officials in Auburn, Oxford, Charlton, Spencer, Paxton and Holden, but these copies probably were not received until early this week and the officials have not had time to review and comment on them.

The few comments that have been received by the local selectmen's office do indicate concern about the ramps causing heavy traffic along roads that are primarily residential.

Marilyn Bigelow of Leicester wrote to Mr. Brennan stating that she agreed with the idea of the on ramp/off ramp as one of the steps necessary to making Leicester a financially self-sufficient community, but had "great concerns about the impact it would have on the already over-traveled Pleasant Street (a part of Route 56)."

She suggested that Route 56, instead of making the turn it now does onto Pleasant Street be continued straight ahead directly to Route 9, the east-west road through Leicester Center.

Kathy and Walter Bird of Oxford wrote of their concerns that the ramps would increase traffic on Old Worcester Road, Depot Road, Old Depot Road, Main Street and Route 56 in Oxford.

"These roads were not designed for heavy traffic and are primarily in residential areas," Mr. and Mrs. Bird wrote. "They will become the new avenue to the Mass Pike for traffic heading west."

The Birds suggested as an alternative a limited access road from the Mass Pike connecting directly with Route 9 in Leicester and continuing to the Worcester Regional Airport.

Oxford Town Manager Joseph Zeneski said he has also had a phone call from a Cominsville Road resident concerned about the increase of traffic in her primarily residential neighborhood.

"I told the people who contacted me about this not to worry at this point," he said. "These projects take a long time to be built, they don't happen overnight and there will be plenty of time to express concerns while it's being studied."

The idea of linking the project with the Worcester Regional Airport is already being considered, according to Douglas A. Belanger, chairman of Leicester selectmen.

When he brought up the proposal again in January, Mr. Brennan said he though the project would open up not only Leicester, but Oxford, Charlton. Spencer, Paxton and the Main South area of Worcester to turnpike traffic and would also benefit the airport.

Mr. Belanger said Selectman Dianna Provencher brought up the idea of a park-and-ride garage to be located near the ramps and operated by the Worcester Regional Transit Authorty to provide transportation to the airport for people coming off the turnpike.

"I took some of the WRTA directors on a ride in my car, showing them how these people could park their cars in the garage and be transported down Stafford Street, and possibly up Ludlow Street in Worcester and up Airport Drive," he said. "This might make the airport more attractive to airlines that don't want to invest in something people can't get to and might help the WRTA provide a new and profitable service. It's an idea worth looking at."

ART: PHOTO; MAP

CUTLINE: (PHOTO) The Massachusetts Turnpike crosses Route 56 in Oxford, where a Leicester selectman is seeking a turnpike entrance and exit. (MAP) Proposed Rt. 56 North Oxford Mass Pike exit

PHOTOG: (PHOTO) T&G Staff/DAN GOULD (MAP) T&G Staff/DON LANDGREN JR.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 6, 2008
Words:974
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