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Quincy, Braintree legislators fault hazmat plan

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  November 14, 2011 04:04 PM

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Quincy and Braintree legislators are up in arms about a Boston plan to redirect trucks carrying hazardous materials out of the city and on to Route 128.

Currently, tankers carrying oil, propane, and gas are only allowed to travel in the city at night and only on designated routes. Under the new plan, hazardous trucks would only be allowed to make deliveries to Boston but wouldn’t be allowed to go through the city to make deliveries elsewhere.

The tankers would instead have to take surrounding routes and highways to navigate, a plan that State Representative Tackey Chan (D- Quincy), State Representative Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy), State Representative Bruce Ayers (D-Quincy), State Senator John Keenan (D-Quincy) and State Representative Mark Cusack (D-Braintree) all said would be unwise.

“There is a safety issue on 128,” Chan said. “If you put have a truck moving at 50 mph, verses moving 15 -20 miles an hour, which is more dangerous? And truck accidents have occurred most recently on highways, most recently in Saugus on Route 1.”

In June, leaders of towns west of Boston raised similar concerns.

The safety of “alternate” roadways is not the only concern, Chan said.

Making trucks go north on specific routes only to come south again, rather than just go through the city, may also add time and increase the cost of delivery. It’s an impact that could effect small businesses, Ayers said.

In addition, many communities along 128 get their water supply from nearby reservoirs. Were there to be a spill, all of these communities would be at risk.

“There are a host of issues,” agreed Cusack. “We have our own water supply in Braintree within 200 yards of Route 93…but all the rivers and creeks that feed into it are surrounded by the highways. If there is a spill, you’re threatening three towns’ water supply. There is a risk now, but we don’t think it’s responsible to dramatically increase that risk.”

Furthermore, Boston is equipped with handling spills, and has the resources to respond to hazmat spills.

“Many of these communities don’t,” Cusack said, who noted that more than 40 legislators outside the city of Boston are against this proposal.

Although Boston officials have said they would help surrounding communities in the event of a spill, rush-hour traffic and other logistical problems could mean that the response time could take hours, Cusack said.

Regardless of the objections, Boston officials say that the densely populated area of the city means that measures need to be taken.

But Chan also said that towns such as Braintree, Quincy, and Randolph could all be considered densely populated, should a study be done.

“Quincy has a population of over 92,000 people and in many areas, it is more dense than Boston,” said Representative Mariano in a release. “Using a population density study that studies only one community to determine risk does not properly reflect the impact Boston’s plan will have.”

“The state shouldn’t be…placing one community’s safety above another’s,” Cusack said.

The plan is before the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and has already undergone a comment and a public hearing period.

Should the MassDOT recommend the plan, it would go on to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, who is the final authority on prohibiting routes and changing vehicular traffic.

Tom Tinlin, the commissioner for Boston Transportation Department, said despite the concerns, moving the nighttime, cut-through traffic from the city is the best option.

"It's not fair to the city to take that burden of cut-through traffic," Tinlin said. "But the roadway system designed is our highway system, and that’s what these trucks are on and where they belong and that's what this study has proven."

According to Tinlin, only a small percentage of trucks would be affected by this - those going through the city at night. The majority of trucks already take Route 128 route.

It's a mandate that has been in place for four years, and has never been a problem before.

"It wasn’t until this public process that folks raised concern," Tinlin said.

Tinlin also noted that the city of Boston didn't enter into the study of the routes willingly, but did so at the mandate of the Hazmat Trucking Association.

What they found was that the population risk, as well as the possible economic side effects of a spill in the heart of the downtown, would be a "catastrophe of biblical proportions."

"Its easier to contain a spill on the highway," Tinlin said. "If you do that in the heart of downtown boston… It would harm life and vitality of the city for a long time."

Legislative members have expressed their sentiments to the MassDOT, who requested response from the city of Boston. The department is currently reviewing everything, but most likely won't have a decision for several months.

If the state government objects to the change, it is unlikely it will go any further, Cusack said.

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