AYER - It's a tricky turn for truckers - turning right from Westford Road onto Sandy Pond Road in Ayer's industrial district. It's a perennial problem which surfaced again at the Jan. 22 selectmen's meeting.
Tractor trailers invariably swing wide and to the right to maneuver the turn, sending their rigs directly into the oncoming eastbound traffic on Sandy Pond Road. Also, private property is routinely damaged on both sides of Sandy Pond Road when truckers calculate the turn incorrectly.
Ayer Police Chief William Murray suggested that it may be possible to install signs banning right hand turns onto Sandy Pond Road from Westford Road. Murray noted, however, that such a sign would require state approval, since Sandy Pond Road is a public way otherwise open to all traffic.
To avoid the tangle at the turn but still head in a westward direction, truckers can proceed straight through the intersection by bearing left onto Westford Road, which leads to Littleton Road (Route 2A). From there, truckers can turn west on Route 2A to connect with Route 2, Ayer center or other westerly directions, or turn east to connect with Route 495 in Littleton.
One Ayer businessman said his Central Avenue operation would be negatively impacted by such a truck ban. Nashoba Valley Transport owner Robert Hebb, Jr. said the problem is caused primarily with out of town truckers, unfamiliar with the turn.
"We're professional drivers," said Hebb. "We make sure when we make that turn, we make a safe turn."
Hebb also said he'd bear the brunt of the cost of a partial truck ban on Sandy Pond Road turns due to added fuel and labor costs. He said of the Westford/Willow/Sandy Pond Road intersection, "That's our industrial area...You want me to go to the Citgo (gas station on Littleton Road) to the rotary? On a Thursday or Friday night, the rotary is backed up quite a bit."
Hebb said the turn is equally as tight off East Main Street when turning onto Groton Harvard Road. Instead, Hebb liked the idea of opening up the now-discontinued cut-through historically located behind the Sandy Pond Schoolhouse at the intersection of Westford and Sandy Pond Roads. The former roadway was once open to two-way traffic as an alternative to the tightly configured Westford/Sandy Pond Road intersection.
But Murray said the cut-through was the scene of multiple accidents, according to discussions he's had with Ayer Fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi. Murray suggested that could be solved with limited one-way traffic on the cut through.
Another barrier to reo-opening the cut-though is the potential cost. Murray said DPW Supt. Mark Wetzel estimates the cost to repave the surface at $100,000 - not including tree removal and the designing of proper roadway drainage systems.
Hebb disagreed, guessed the costs would be lower and suggested that the old road surface may have simply been buried under the present soil cover. Hebb suggested the restored cut-through would help provide safe truck access to Ayer's industrial "main thoroughfare."
Al Millett, Operations Manager at Cains Foods on East Main Street, said his company runs a shuttle from NEMCO Way to the company's East Main Street location. He suggested added truck traffic on the Carlton Circle rotary could impact response time for emergency responders.
"Having that turn eliminated would impact us financially and labor wise," said Millett. "Our trucks have taken that for 15 years" without sending the rigs down Sandy Pond Road and onto Central Avenue which ends at Columbia Street downtown aside the Post Office. "I send them down on Route 2A, not through town."
Another cause for concern - whenever freight or commuter rail trains cross over Westford Road for truckers headed for Route 2A, causing a "bottle neck when the gates are down," said Hebb. "Traffic backs up to Route 2A and Westford Road is jammed up."
Murray suggested the industrial park businesses be asked anew to voluntarily direct traffic away from the right hand turn onto Sandy Pond Road. The issue remained an open topic of discussion for the selectmen.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata