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Towns seek a safer Route 3A

Traffic backs up along Route 3A in Quincy. Congestion has also increased in Cohasset.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File 2004

Traffic backs up along Route 3A in Quincy. Congestion has also increased in Cohasset.

The state is studying a heavily used stretch of Route 3A — from the MBTA commuter rail station in Cohasset to North Scituate — with the goal of finding ways to make the major roadway safer for motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

Traffic on the busy 3.5-mile corridor averages between 12,000 and 15,000 vehicles daily, and the accident rate is significantly higher than the state average, according to the study’s preliminary work. There were 290 crashes, two of them fatalities, between 2006 and 2010.

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That translates to a crash rate of 3.6 accidents per million vehicle miles, the measure used by the state Department of Transportation, the report said. By comparison, the report lists the state average at 0.98 accidents per million vehicle miles for rural areas, and 2.62 for urban areas.

The mostly two-lane road has no sidewalks, no bicycle lanes, and “mostly no sufficient” shoulders, the preliminary study said. The 290 accidents on that section of Route 3A included two bike crashes and one pedestrian accident.

The intersection recording the most accidents — 45 — was Route 3A and Beechwood Street in Cohasset, closely followed by Route 3A and King and Sohier streets with 44. Rear-end collisions were most common along the state-owned roadway, with 113 reported during the five-year period.

“The biggest problem is definitely safety,” said Cohasset Planning Board member Clark Brewer, who led the drive to get the state to study the roadway. He said increased development along Route 3A has contributed to the problem.

“The Planning Board feels responsible in part because over the last 10 years it has approved half a million to three-quarters of a million square feet of new development along the corridor. It’s a lot of growth and it all has a direct impact,” Brewer said. “Unfortunately, each large project was created one at a time without a clear idea of the cumulative impact on the safety and mobility along the 3A corridor.”

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The Scituate Planning Board and Police Department endorsed the proposal for a state study, as did local legislators.

The study, which began in earnest in March, is being done by the Central Transportation Planning Staff of the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization. The group is meeting with local officials and plans to hold information sessions with local residents and businesses, starting last week.

The final report — and accompanying recommendations — is expected to be complete by fall 2013, Brewer said.

“Then the hard part comes,” he said. “What can we realistically talk Mass. [Department of Transportation] into doing and paying for? And what can be done with other funds?”

Brewer said some measures to improve the road would cost little or nothing.

Examples include putting up signs that say “Drive Friendly” or lowering the speed limit on parts of the highway, he said. He pointed to the 45-miles-per-hour limit in the congested area in front of the entrance to Avalon’s 220-apartment development and not far from a Dunkin’ Donuts — near the intersection of Sohier Street -- as a logical place to lower the speed limit.

Other suggestions such as sidewalks, traffic lights, and redesigned intersections could be pricier, Brewer said. But he said a crying need is sidewalks leading to the MBTA commuter rail station off Route 3A.

“There were bike paths talked about [to the train station] and sidewalks that had a preliminary design done. But it got forgotten about or ignored,” Brewer said.

His hope, he said, is that the study will offer ideas on how to make Route 3A “a robust, civilized corridor that can handle continued development.”

Scituate is particularly interested in the state’s ideas for improving safety at the intersection of Route 3A and Henry Turner Bailey Road, said town planner Laura Harbottle. The road is one of the main routes connecting North Scituate with Route 3A, and some people think the intersection needs a traffic light, she said.

“If you’re turning south, it’s difficult psychologically to make that left turn because you see these cars coming at you,” she said. “It is scary.”

She said she also looks forward to the state reviewing speed limits along the road.

“You have the situation now where the speed limit goes from 50 in Scituate to 35 in Cohasset, right at the town line. People doing the study are looking at trying to make the speed limits make more sense,” she said.

Harbottle said the study’s conclusions also would be useful if Scituate ever decides to expand its business district.

“There is limited land available [on Route 3A] because of wetlands, but there is some potential for that area to be rezoned to allow business in the future. If that happened, the town would like to see what traffic improvements are available,” she said.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.

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