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BRIDGEWATER — State Trooper Duarte Tavares cruises along Route 24, the highway he has been patrolling for six years, left hand on the wheel and right hand on his computer. He keys in the plate numbers of certain cars on the road in search of drivers with outstanding warrants, expired inspection stickers, and other violations. It’s nearly 11 p.m. on the Friday of Labor Day weekend, and he’ll stop more than a dozen motorists before his shift ends.
Route 24 is known for being a straight and flat highway, where many motorists drive fast and tailgating is common. Following a series of fatal crashes this summer, State Police stepped up their presence by sending extra troopers out on weekends to pull over careless drivers and hand out as many speeding tickets as possible. The hope is that the patrol surge, which continues all this month, will get drivers to slow down and prevent accidents.
“We’re trying to make it safe so people can get home at night,” says Tavares, who lives in Taunton. “When you’re driving so fast, you don’t have a lot of wiggle room.”
Indeed, accidents happen all too frequently on the highway, many with tragic consequences.
During 2010, the most recent year for which comprehensive figures were available from the state Department of Transportation, more than 800 serious accidents were documented along the 41-mile stretch of Route 24 between Randolph and Fall River, according to a Globe analysis of the crash data. In each of those crashes, someone was either hurt or killed, or there was at least $1,000 worth of property damage.
Five people died in traffic accidents on Route 24 last year, according to the State Police.
This year, six people have died on the highway. On July 12, a 12-year-old Norton girl was killed when the truck she was riding in blew a tire and rolled over near the Avon-Stoughton line. She was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the vehicle.
Three days later, just before 4 a.m., a car driving the wrong way on the highway collided head-on with a pickup truck in West Bridgewater. Two people — a 19-year-old Mansfield woman and a 44-year-old man from Rhode Island — died in the fiery crash.
“Some of the crashes we see on 24 are among the most horrific in the state,” said State Police spokesman David Procopio, who calls the 1950s-era highway a “deadly road” with long straightaways where drivers can quickly pick up speed.
“There’s not much space on the shoulders, so if you have to swerve and try to recorrect yourself there’s not much room,” he said. “It’s reflective of when the road was built and the fact that it’s become a major north-south corridor. There’s a lot of commerce down there, and a lot of industry. It’s just very heavily traveled.”
Transportation planners say the highway’s design falls short by today’s standards.
“It’s definitely one of the more dangerous roads in Southeastern Mass.,” said Charles Kilmer, transportation program manager for the Old Colony Planning Council, which represents several communities along the Route 24 corridor.
Kilmer participated in a road safety audit of Route 24 in 2008. The study found that the highway’s interchanges do not provide enough room for vehicles entering or exiting the roadway to accelerate or slow down safely. Many of the ramps are short and curve sharply, so drivers have to turn the wheel and step on the gas to merge into the traffic flow.
“The design standards date back to the 1950s,” said James C. Hadfield, transportation planning manager for the Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District, another regional agency. “The entire highway would never be able to be built today.”
Route 24 stretches between Interstate 93 in Randolph and Fall River, where it crosses the state line into Rhode Island, passing through the communities of Canton, Stoughton, Avon, Brockton, West Bridgewater, Bridgewater, Raynham, Taunton, Berkley, and Freetown. It serves as a key thoroughfare for commuters because it leads into Boston and provides access to interstates 495 and 195. On weekends and at night, many take Route 24 to visit restaurants and nightclubs in Rhode Island.
Originally called the Fall River Expressway and later designated the Amvets Memorial Highway, it was constructed piece by piece throughout the 1950s.
When the road was first built, “there was a lot less traffic,” said Hadfield. “It was easier to merge into the flow of traffic than it is now, especially during certain times, the peak periods, of the day.”
In the summer of 1957, as the highway was nearing completion, the Globe reported that an animal “as big as an elephant” was seen ambling along the Fall River Expressway. Brockton police rushed to the scene in a patrol car and found two cows on the road.Continued...