By Bill Kirk
---- — Watching the traffic on Tewksbury Street in Ballardvale is a little like watching a NASCAR race: It’s an accident waiting to happen.
An elderly man jogging along the edge of the asphalt one morning last week forced one car to pull over the double-yellow line into the oncoming lane of traffic — while on a hill.
A woman in a minivan, slowing to a safe speed of 30 mph, was tailgated and honked at by someone driving a Subaru station wagon who was obviously in a rush.
Delivery trucks of all shapes and sizes hurtled down the road, headed from Ballardvale center toward Tewksbury. Other trucks, some loaded with huge logs and others towing landscaping trailers, went the opposite direction.
During a two-hour stretch last Thursday morning, a reporter and photographer for The Andover Townsman stood at the end of the driveway at 93 Tewksbury St., watching firsthand as trucks, cars, joggers, dog-walkers, children, school buses and bicyclists tried to share the 18- to 20-foot wide road.
It wasn’t pretty.
Residents of the roughly 1-mile stretch of road between Ballardvale center and the Tewsksbury town line say life has become unbearably hazardous.
Over the last decade, neighbors say they have pleaded with town officials to do something, anything, about the road — to no avail.
”We’ve been working on this for 11 or 12 years,” Dianne DeLucia of 86 Tewksbury St. said
Finally, in April, DeLucia and a dozen neighbors penned a letter to town officials highlighting the dangers of the busy thoroughfare.
According to the letter, trucks that are too large and too heavy are fracturing the asphalt. Storm drains are depressed by the constant beating of 18-wheelers. A water main recently broke. When two cars are passing, the letter said, there is no room for pedestrians.
”On more than one occasion, people have come within mere inches of being hit by speeding vehicles,” they wrote. “Families do not allow their children to walk to the ice cream shop in Ballardvale during the summer months for fear of them being hit.”
The letter was addressed to Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski, with copies to state Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover; state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover; former Police Chief Brian Pattullo and police safety officer Charles Edgerly.
”When we first sent the letter, we didn’t get one response,” DeLucia said. A week or two later, she said, she ran into Lyons and pleaded with him to do something about the road.
”He said, ‘I’ll stay on it,’” she recalled.
Lyons said he spoke with Selectman Brian Major and then sent a letter to Stapczynski inquiring about the neighbors’ concerns. Soon after, the restive neighbors got a response, and a meeting was called at the Town Offices.
Earlier this month, more than 50 people — armed with photos and anecdotes about how their once peaceful, rural, winding road had become a speedway for trucks and commuters and a safety hazard to residents — packed into the third-floor selectmen’s meeting room, ”The outpouring of people was amazing,” said John Brussard, who lives at 93 Tewksbury St. with his wife and four, school-age children. “There were people there I’ve never seen before.”
People came not only from Tewksbury Street, but also from Chester Street, Yardley Road, Mitton Circle and other nearby streets.
And they all had different concerns.
Speed, visibility among problems
For the Brussards, the issue comes down to the safety of their children.
Last week, while their two elementary school-age daughters got ready for school, Julie Brussard spoke about the dangers of the roadway for young children.
At the start of the year, the bus stop for her youngest daughters — Jacklyn, 9, and Jesselle, 6 — was about 200 yards down Tewksbury Street at the intersection with Yardley Road.
But her husband, fearing for their daughters’ safety if they had to walk along the narrow road, spoke with school officials and convinced them to pick the girls up at the end of their driveway.
Julie Brussard said she’d love to let her older daughters — Casey, 14, and Chloe, 11 — walk to the stores in Ballardvale center, but doesn’t dare.
”When we are waiting at the end of the driveway, we see trucks going by really fast,” Jacklyn Brussard said. “I’ve seen vehicles come to a complete standstill going in opposite directions if there’s a pedestrian or biker. ... Even the bus driver has to stop when cars are going by.”
The Brussards’ neighbor, Shital Shah, of 91 Tewksbury St., said she is worried about the late fall and winter months, before the clock changes and it is pitch-dark in the morning. Two streetlights near her home have been turned off as part of the town’s cost-saving measures.
”At night, there is no light,” she said, recalling how a car recently hit a fire hydrant opposite her house one evening.
Making matters worse will be the arrival of snowbanks, which make the road even narrower, she said.
Shah asked the town to turn on the streetlight in front of her house and was told she’d have to call National Grid and pay the electric bill herself.
Room for improvements
At their meeting with neighbors, Stapczynski and acting Public Works Director Chris Cronin told neighbors they can bring a warrant article to Town Meeting next year seeking a new sidewalk, something the residents were open to.
”Everybody who lives here says, ‘Take 5 feet off my front yard,’” Shah said. “It would be a great improvement.”
Police safety officer Charles Edgerley said police and public works employees have conducted studies and found that the average speed is around 40 mph, too high for such a road.
But state law prohibits the town from erecting a speed limit sign, so for now, neighbors will have to rely on a “Thickly Settled” sign, which is meant to imply speed limits of 30 mph or less.
Another option is to make Tewksbury Street a “truck exclusion” zone, meaning trucks of a certain size would no longer be allowed to use the road. Instead, they’d have to go up Andover Street to Dascomb Road to get to Interstate 93.
That’s the option DeLucia is hoping for, although several neighbors interviewed would be happy with a sidewalk.
Matt Strong, the owner of Forever Green landscaping company at the Tewksbury end of Tewksbury Street, said his drivers are advised to go slow.
”We’ve always gone slow,” he said. “We talk about it every year.”
But he said he has seen large trucks cut through the neighborhood, and that some vehicles — including cars — often go too fast. Strong said he supports the idea of widening the road.
”It’s not a big road,” he said, adding that he views himself and his company as “a steward of the street. I’m always looking after it. Many of the people on the street are our customers.”
Stapczynski said Tewksbury Street is scheduled for repaving and some widening in 2014 or 2015.
The work, he said, would be done in conjunction with water utility work, drainage improvements and the natural gas company upgrading service in the area.
He called the meeting with neighbors productive and positive, adding that plenty of opportunity for widening and sidewalks exists.
”A lot of good ideas came out of it,” he said.