Retail boom leads to traffic surge on Route 24
When it first opened in 1951, Route 24 carried a few thousand people a day along its 40-mile stretch from the Rhode Island border to Randolph.
Today, Route 24 has become an accident-plagued, out-dated highway unable to handle increasing volumes of traffic as the region continues to grow.
It is a major artery carrying more than 100,000 cars and trucks daily from the ever-expanding suburbs in southeastern Massachusetts to Boston's doorstep.
Retail development, which typically follows residential growth, has been a key factor in the surge of traffic on Route 24.
It started with the opening of Westgate Mall in Brockton in February 1965 — the first climate-controlled shopping center in Massachusetts.
Westgate Mall's developers picked a location off Route 24 to take advantage of traffic on that new state highway and the suburban population growth after World War II.
In the years since then, shopping plazas, industrial parks, technology centers, medical practices and auto dealerships have opened near the highway.
“It's taxing 24 beyond its capabilities,” Avon Selectman Frank Hagerty said at a meeting last week to discuss the future of the highway. “The road obviously cannot handle the traffic.”
And the problem is worse during the holidays, when an additional 10 percent of vehicles use the highway, according to Ray Guarino, transportation planner for the Old Colony Planning Council.
Retail development is now visible up and down Route 24.
The Silver City Galleria in Taunton has caused traffic to back up from exit ramps onto Route 24 at busy shopping times. The retail stores along Route 140 in Taunton have added to the crush.
Then there's the destination retailer, Ikea home furnishings, which created traffic gridlock when it opened in Merchants Park off Route 24 on the Avon-Stoughton line in November 2005.
Other popular home stores have also opened along the Route 24 corridor in Stoughton — Jordan's Furniture, Boston Interiors and Bassett are three examples — and now, discounter giant Target plans to open a store in Stoughton on Route 139 right off Route 24 next fall.
Farther south, Home Depot is slated to open in Bridgewater in February at a site not far from the exit off the highway.
Guarino said this kind of traffic is, unfortunately, “a fact of life in America.” “The patterns of development just are geared toward the automobile,” Guarino said.
The Home Depot is going up on Route 104, which already gets backed up as cars try to merge onto Route 24, according to Bridgewater Police Chief George Gurley.
This creates an unsafe situation, as stopped cars are forced to accelerate to highway speeds to merge, Gurley said during the meeting last week at the Old Colony Planning Council office in Brockton.
“It's gridlock,” he said. “The opening of Home Depot is going to make the situation even worse.” Commercial and residential growth off Interstate 495, which intersects with Route 24, has added to the woes. And if a casino comes to Middleboro or another southeastern Massachusetts site near Route 24, highway traffic will surge again.
There are no quick fixes, officials say.
The Old Colony commuter rail line from Boston to Middleboro has eased the upswing in traffic on Route 24. And the proposed commuter rail extension to Fall River and New Bedford would help too, train proponents say.
Recommendations from the Brockton-based Old Colony Metropolitan Planning Organization include:
- Creating wider shoulders on the sides of the highway. In some places there is no breakdown lane, which forces part of the highway to be closed during an accident
- Adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes, which would address some of the congestion
- Promoting carpooling, telecommuting and flexible working hours, which all could help reduce congestion during peak hours.
Kyle Alspach can be reached at email@example.com.