REENFIELD — Autumn Foster’s walk home from school is brief and direct.
After all, the eighth-grader lives just across the street from Greenfield Central Junior High School in Copeland Farms, a half-mile walk from her home.
But now that the Potts Ditch reconstruction has routed vehicles away from State Road 9, residents are seeing traffic spill into small streets and neighborhoods that aren’t suited to handle the increased load.
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State Road 9 was closed last week and is estimated to remain closed for at least two more weeks as crews reroute a new ditch under the street in downtown Greenfield. Traffic has been rerouted to Apple and Franklin streets, and many citizens are concerned about the immediate risk the detours pose.
Franklin Street, which runs in front of the junior high, absorbs much of the detoured traffic from State Road 9, but neighbors said that’s not the biggest threat. The city streets neighboring State Road 9 are being used by drivers looking to circumvent long lines that are clogging up some of the city’s major thoroughfares.
Tiffany Ouellette, Autumn’s mother, said several of her neighbors have complained about seeing semi-trucks barreling through the narrow streets of Copeland Farms, a small neighborhood nestled between Franklin and Broadway streets just south of New Road. She worries about Autumn and the other neighborhood children who walk home from school nearly every day.
“There are tons of kids in our neighborhood, and a lot of them play along the main street,” Ouellette said. “It’s scary to think about what could happen.”
The school has crossing guards who help children cross Franklin Street each day, but those guards aren’t in the neighborhoods as students leave their homes and head for class.
Ouellette is comforted to see the crossing guard, knowing he’s there to orchestrate the traffic, but it hasn’t quelled her concerns completely.
“I’ve noticed that he’s there during the normal time that people go to and from school, but if a child is late or goes in really early, then he’s not there,” Ouellette said.
Dan Jack, principal at Greenfield Central, said he, too, has noticed more semi-trucks traveling down Franklin Street, but the school zone speed limit — 20 mph — should keep things safe.
As school started Monday, most drivers were keeping a safe speed, he said.
“It looks like everyone’s keeping to a slow pace, and everything appears to be running smoothly out there,” Jack said. “Hopefully it continues that way.”
Greenfield-Central Schools Superintendent Harold Olin agreed with Jack, adding that local police do an excellent job of enforcing the speed zone outside the school.
“That benefits our walkers and keeps things as safe as we can,” Olin said.
A new tunnel is being constructed for Potts Ditch — a waterway that runs underground when it reaches the downtown district — along Grant, East, North and Spring streets in downtown Greenfield. The project began in early fall and is expected to be complete by the end of the year. State Road 9 is closed at Grant Street near downtown Greenfield as construction on Potts Ditch continues west.
Greenfield Police Department Maj. Derek Towle, head of the city’s road patrol, said considering the restrictions, officers haven’t encountered any unexpected issues.
“Of course things have slowed down a bit, but to move traffic around the detour itself, we have no choice but to send semis and other drivers somewhere,” Towle said.
He said truckers are directed to a detour route along Apple Street, but depending on drivers’ destinations or where their GPS sends them, they may not stick to the recommended route.
Still, drivers shouldn’t veer off course into nearby neighborhoods, he said.
“Everybody should be following the detours, it doesn’t matter if they’re trucks or cars,” Towle said.
Considering the amount of traffic that comes through the city each day, Towle said, the department has to rely on drivers to obey directions from street signs.
“We just don’t have the manpower to direct traffic and tell everyone which way to go,” he said.
Towle advises pedestrians walking along busy roadways always look both ways before crossing the street.
“They should be sure that the roadway is completely clear before crossing,” he said.
“It may mean that they have to walk an extra block or two to cross the street, but that in itself could save an incident from happening.”
State Road 9 is closed to traffic at Grant Street in downtown Greenfield as construction on the Potts Ditch project continues.
Officials advise drivers traveling north on State Road 9 to detour west on U.S. 40 to Franklin Street and then take Franklin Street north to New Road before coming back to State Road 9.
Those traveling south on State Road 9 should detour east on New Road, take Apple Street south and turn west on U.S. 40.