New traffic pattern attempts to ease congestion

Hartford Road closed off to streamline car flow, drivers face significant delays as a result.

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New traffic pattern attempts to ease congestion

Varshini Ramanathan, Editor-in-Chief

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Principal Jim Antonelli closed off Hartford Road to cars incoming to Westford Academy at the beginning of the school year, a decision that has caused controversy among parents, students, and faculty whose commutes have lengthened as a result. This new traffic plan, one of many instated over the past few years, is another attempt to ease the flow of cars to the school in the mornings and improve student safety.

Between parents and teachers turning into the parking lot off of Hartford Road towards traffic and students crossing Hartford Road to get the school, the area is chaotic at best and dangerous at worst. Closing Hartford Road to incoming traffic is meant to alleviate “a little bit of everything”, according to Student Resource Officer Geoffrey Pavao, who explains that the daily bottleneck is the product of a tangle of issues.

The most obvious of these issues is sheer volume. The school is almost at population capacity, but the number of cars at the school is more than traffic engineers ever imagined as they worked on the school’s initial plan, Antonelli explained.

“I think they thought about students coming in on buses. There’s a variety of reasons it’s changed, you know. I mean, I went to school on the bus every single day until I was a senior, right, so that’s just the way things worked. But my class was 225 versus a class of 465 [referring to the class of 2021],” he said. 

Antonelli has worked with traffic engineers over the past three years to ease the “ebb and flow,” as he calls it, as the student population of Westford Academy reaches an an all-time peak. Last year, administration added a crosswalk in the student lot as a safety consideration, as well as more pick-up and drop-off zones at the back of the school that were intended to ease congestion in the front.

While the crosswalk seemed to work, as Pavao noted that students were diligent in using it and accidents decreased last year, administration has struggled to get parents to stick to the designated pick-up and drop-off zones.

Pavao explained that when parents drop their children off near the front rather than the back, the congestion backs up Patten Road, which in turn backs up Cold Spring Road once cars can no longer take a turn onto Patten. The resulting “traffic mess” was part of the reason for the closing of Hartford Road.

“Quite frankly, if people follow the rules, I think it would be better. But some of the drivers that come into this parking lot, make their own rules, right?” Antonelli said. “When people make their own rules and stop caring about anybody else, then the system breaks down.”

However, the new pattern has delayed not just commuters coming through Hartford Road but from all sides of the school. Frustrations have been running high among students and parents alike, and Antontelli recalls getting several angry emails as well as being yelled at as he stood outside over the past month.

Antonelli assures that these decisions are not made on a whim, and that each traffic pattern is calculated to have a tangible impact on congestion around the school.

“Everything we’ve done, we’ve done it in collaboration with engineers, local officials,” he said. 

English teacher Meghan Oelerich, who lives in town, has two children whom she must drop off at seven in the morning in order to make it to school on time.

Compared to last year, she says, the traffic situation is much more difficult. Her normal commute takes her through Hartford Road, but after the new traffic plan was instated, she has had to circle around to the school in a new route that takes her around ten minutes longer.

“For now, I’ve done it. I’ve been maybe marginally late, like I called Mrs. Keirstead a few times […] my concern is winter, when the bad weather hits, the ice and things like that, and everything slows down. If I’m barely getting here on time now, when the weather is beautiful, it’s a concern,” she said.

Seniors who have to drive to school in the mornings have voiced concerns about barely making it to school on time despite waking up earlier, and have suggested various changes to speed up the traffic flow.

“We need to have another traffic person at the Cold Spring intersection [with Patten Road],” said senior Matt Mantenuto. “Everyone at that stop sign isn’t told to go, and then they never get to school.”

Antonelli has already begun considering this adjustment since parents brought up the idea last year, as he hopes it will improve student safety in the area.

“Because that, for me, is one of the most dangerous intersections in Westford. I mean, I’ve been to 15, 20 different accidents out there over the last, you know, ten years of my career,” he said. 

For now, though, the plan for the future is simply to adjust.

“With any new change, it’s going to be, you know, a little bit different, but people just need to realize, hey, it’s a little bit slower. Leave a couple minutes earlier. I mean, it’s not — this isn’t end-of-the-world-type stuff. It’s a couple of minutes, so leave a few minutes earlier,” said Pavao.