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Middleborough junction work has drivers on edge

Line repair will keep intersection project going until August

A protracted two-year project to install traffic signals at the junction of Route 105 and Interstate 495 in Middleborough should have wrapped up this month, but the custom repair of a damaged fiber optic line will delay the finish until late August, according to the state.

The signals and turning lanes at the I-495 on- and off-ramps were meant to alleviate wait times and make turning safer at the nexus of the highways where commuters stream by from the Middleborough/Lakeville MBTA station.

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But those commuters and town residents are boiling over with frustration at what they say has been a prolonged nightmare.

“This apparently is the Middleborough/Lakeville version of the Big Dig,’’ said south Middleborough resident Stephen Del Signore. “I am no traffic or road engineer, but we are talking about a stretch of road that is barely a mile long.”

The state Department of Transportation agreed to conduct the improvements following a town request and recommendations by the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District in an I-495 corridor study.

Things were on track until contractor P.A. Landers Inc. damaged the Verizon line this winter shortly after the utility company had relocated it, according to Sara Lavoie, a DOT spokeswoman.

“The line required significant work to repair,’’ said Lavoie.

The Hanover-based company won the bid in 2012 for the $2.5 million work after it got a $1.9 million contract in 2010 to relocate part of Route 79 and install the other traffic light across from Commercial Avenue, according to documents.

Figures provided by Lavoie show that from 1992 through 2012, Landers has contracted with Massachusetts on 95 construction projects worth more than $185 million.

On one prior occasion, the company ran into serious trouble. In 2007, according to reports by the Cape Cod Times and the Patriot Ledger newspapers, Preston “Skip” Landers, then the firm’s owner, and Gregory R. Keelan, its vice president at the time, were convicted of taking in more than $18 million in excess payments for taxpayer-funded paving work after allegedly rigging the scales to overcharge for asphalt. Both were sentenced to jail time; the company paid a $900,000 fine but was authorized to again bid on state projects in 2008.

Company president David Prosper could not be reached by phone but said in a voice-mail message that the company isn’t responsible for the damage or the delay in the project.

“It’s not related to us at all,’’ he said. “It’s Verizon’s line and we can’t do anything until they finish their part of the work. We’d like to finish the job.’’

Prosper did not respond to a query about the company history, nor to a follow-up call.

Lavoie said Verizon has completed the splicing repair but there is no set delivery date for the special manhole that had to be fabricated to cover it. Once the equipment is installed, “we will be able to complete the final paving, line striping, and signage to activate the signals,” she said.

The need for a trio of traffic signals within a six-10ths-of-a-mile radius seems excessive to Courtney Larrivey, who lives on the old stretch of Route 79 parallel to the project that is now a dead end. The arrangement means she has to travel through all three lights to get anywhere in Middleborough, she said.

“It’s going to take me 20 minutes just to get to the Y when it used to take literally two,’’ she said.

Other commuters, however, such as resident Trish Dame Nevitt, say change is good.

“I personally can’t wait,” said Nevitt. “Coming off of 495 onto 105 can be unnerving at best.”

Middleborough Police Chief Bruce Gates said he doesn’t think the new lights will ease congestion, and may have the opposite effect. He said more motorists could opt to ditch the highway at the new lights at Exit 4 off I-495 to avoid logjams at the infamous Middleborough Rotary, a few miles to the north at the junction of routes 18, 28 and 44, and just off I-495.

However, Gates said, “I do think it will slow things down and make traffic flow in a more orderly fashion a bit.’’

In January, after decades of delays, DOT officials said design and permitting for a makeover of about $38 million on the notoriously congested traffic circle, to include a new fly-over on Route 44, would begin immediately.

On Friday, state Senator Marc Pacheco, a Democrat from Taunton, said work to reconfigure the rotary will begin in 2017.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@ live.com.
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