A regional planning and economic development agency has pledged up to $15 million in transportation improvement funds to help replace the Middleborough rotary, an effort aimed at narrowing the gap between the town and the state on resolving the decades-old safety issue.
The funds represent a full year’s allotment of Transportation Improvement Funding, a roughly 80 to 20 percent mix of federal and state money, respectively, that the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District receives annually for work in its 27 member cities and towns, according to James Hadfield, transportation planning manager for the Taunton-based agency.
“This region feels strongly enough for a remedy that we would be willing to give the entire amount to fix the rotary once and for all,’’ Hadfield said. “There are jobs here, and the potential for more, but no one wants to come here.”
The junction of Route 44, Route 28, Route 18, and Interstate 495 is a notorious trouble spot, the site of frequent accidents and backups, and almost constant, mind-numbing congestion.
Hadfield said crushing rotary traffic is already seen as a hindrance to local development efforts in the Route 44 corridor, and is only expected to worsen if a casino is located in Taunton, and/or a slots parlor in Raynham, as proposed.
“There will never be a perfect project,’’ he said. “But this is a regional issue that affects so many residents it needs to be a statewide priority.”
Discussions about fixes at the rotary have been ongoing for decades, but work has been stymied by a disagreement between the town and the state Department of Transportation over which plan would work best.
After an analysis of about 40 alternatives, MassDOT proposed a $25 million plan that includes a flyover of Route 44 that diverts drivers heading west in a kind of loop, first onto Route 18, then off to I-495, and finally back onto Route 44 toward Taunton.
A plan Middleborough commissioned from McMahon Associates would cost about $38 million and also includes a flyover but is more direct, town officials said, separating the eastbound and westbound lanes on Route 44, and adding an auxiliary lane on I-495.
In a letter to state Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey, Lee Azinheira, chairman of the regional planning agency’s Joint Transportation Planning Group, said members have been recommending rotary improvements since 1982.
According to a 2012 regional transportation plan, the rotary had 152 recorded crashes between 2006 and 2008 and has been a daily source of congestion, Azinheira said.
“The amount of this commitment is roughly the difference between the McMahon alternative and the [state] design,” Middleborough Town Manager Charles Cristello said in a letter to Davey, asking for a meeting to come to consensus so the work to move the project forward can begin.
Executives from both Campanelli Development and Conroy Development, owners of the two largest industrial parks in Middleborough, have also sent the state letters of support for the town’s plan, as has the town of Raynham.
Jeff DeMarco, a partner at the Campanelli company, said the state plan would hurt the 2.16 million-square-foot industrial park located just north of the rotary.
“It would result in the park tenants, employees, customers, and vendors being prevented from easily accessing Route 44 west, and requiring them to travel onto, and off of, I-495, which is both inconvenient and dangerous,’’ he said, because it requires merging into high-speed traffic twice.
“Once a flyover is constructed, as proposed by MassDOT and the town, and the rotary is removed, there is no longer an impediment to slow down traffic travelling at 60-plus miles per hour,’’ DeMarco said in his letter. “We urge Mass DOT to construct the town’s alternative to these changes and maintain the easy, fluid traffic movements that local businesses have enjoyed for over 20 years.”
Joseph D. Lynch, a Conroy vice president, said the diversion of local traffic away from Route 44 west onto two I-495 interchanges “will have a devastating impact to our future development efforts at the park.”
Similarly, Raynham’s town administrator, Randall Buckner, said his Board of Selectmen has voted unanimously to support the Middleborough design, “agreeing it makes much more sense for all the communities in the area as it allows access to Route 44 from the rotary.”
On the local end, the allocation to give the money to support the Middleborough project would have to be approved by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, officials said.
State transportation department spokeswoman Sara Lavoie said the agency is aware of the financial proposal being made by the regional planning group, and “MassDOT design and traffic engineers continue to study both alternatives.’’
Acknowledging that a meeting has been requested, she said no date has yet been set.