Slow spot on Route 9
Starts & Stops/West, a transportation column tailored to the western suburbs, runs every other Sunday. Feedback and questions on transportation topics from road to rail, planes to pedestrians are welcome.
Slow spot on Route 9: It's a brief stretch of Route 9 -- so brief you probably wouldn't even notice it unless you were hit with a ticket for breaking the 40-mile-per-hour speed limit.
The stretch of road, which runs beneath the Speen Street overpass in Natick, has caught the attention of Ivan of Needham, who contends that the posted speed limit is illegal. He has been trying to persuade state officials to raise it to at least 50.
Unless otherwise designated, state law sets the speed limit on divided highways (Route 9 included) outside thickly settled or business districts at 50. Richard Wilson, of the state Highway Department, told us that the speed limit on this part of Route 9 had been set at 45 miles per hour because of a curve there. In 1981, it was lowered to 40 because of a number of fatal accidents in the area and because of the nearby Speen Street on-ramp, which funnels traffic onto the road.
"Safety was the motivating factor in reducing this speed limit," he wrote in an e-mail.
But Ivan shared with us a copy of a memo from a Mass. Highway district office in Framingham from 2000 suggesting that the speed limit in the area could be as high as 55 miles per hour. Forman, of Mass. Highway, said speed limit changes can be made only by traffic engineers based at Boston headquarters. She added that Mass. Highway has gotten regular inquiries about this stretch of Route 9 and that the agency is revisiting speed limits there.
Regardless of the road's curves and merging traffic, Ivan, a frequent critic of speed limits, does not believe keeping cars at 40 miles per hour is necessary to maintain safety. He cites roads such as Route 128, which are peppered with those same hazards and have higher speed limits. There should be no reason, Ivan argues, to reduce the speed limit below the general state designation of 50.
In the meantime, you may want to consider hitting the brakes when you travel under Speen Street.
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