Acton Massachusetts is a quaint suburb just a smooth 25-mile drive outside of Boston, the state’s capital. While the town is highly popular amongst young families, it is best known for its exceptional public school system and safe community.
But, a short 4-month span between October to January had seen the wholesome town of Acton making both local and national headlines for other, not so positive reasons.
As of October of 2022, the town has been making headlines for several deadly and near-death vehicle related incidents in town, specifically on Great Road which runs from the Concord line through the center of Acton into Westford.
In four months’ time, there have been four horrific accidents, three of which took place on Great Road in Acton.
“The speed limit is 40 miles per hour, which people argue is too much for a town road” says Himaja Nagireddy, one of five council board members in Acton “and then, on top of that, because it does come off a connecting highway, you do have people speeding down that road” she adds.
Of the four incidents occurring on or near Great Road in the that four-month span, there have been two deaths, one pedestrian critically injured, and another rushed to the hospital but later reported to be in stable condition.
In early October of 2022, Kevin Shaw, a Sudbury native was hit and killed on Great Road in Acton.
The father of two was simply crossing the street.
In late October of last year, a motorcyclist was in an accident with a man driving a vehicle on Great Road.
“First responders found the motorcycle operator, a 64-year-old man, injured at the scene. The man was treated at the scene by Acton paramedics while a medical helicopter responded to the scene” WCVB Channel 5 reports.
In early November of 2022, 13 year old Cesar Soto Jr. was struck by a car on Great Road in a hit and run incident.
“Soto was in the crosswalk at the time of the crash, which happened on Great Road near Harris Street, according to authorities. Officers responded to the situation around 6:15 p.m. on Nov. 2” NBC Boston reported after the hit and run driver had been found.
Lastly, in January of this year, a female Acton resident was struck by a car in another hit and run incident just off of Great road in Acton.
The mother of two was retrieving the mail from her mailbox, a daily occurrence for her.
The town has been shaken up, and rightfully so, many community members have expressed concern for their safety and for their children’s safety traveling around town.
“It has raised our efforts to get the state both to improve proposed safety improvements and to invest more money into safer roads in Acton” Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton said in response to the many concerned phone calls he has had from community members.
A different approach to the community’s concerns was taken by Acton council board member David Martin.
“People shouldn’t have to risk life and limb to do normal things around town” he said, “the recent incidents sadden me greatly” he adds.
“Make sure that there are no vehicles. Don’t assume that vehicles can see you wearing brightly colored clothes especially if you’re walking outside after dark” Nagireddy gives her advice back to the community during these troubling times.
While Senator Eldridge, Martin, and Nagireddy do not work hand in hand all of the time, the senator works closely with the board of Acton and it appears as though the three are on different pages on how the community’s concerns have affected their own feelings and work.
Their differences in opinion on these tragedies do not stop there, though.
When asked about the ‘why’ behind these four consecutive accidents, the three could not come to a consensus on whether or not these were a coincidence.
“I think that as much as we would like to say that they are coincidental. I don’t think we can make the case that pedestrian situations are [a coincidence]” says Nagireddy, “I think that reckless driving is definitely a component of it. I think that we also do have problems with our infrastructure” she goes on to add.
Martin takes the polar opposite side of Nagireddy’s approach to the question of is this a coincidence, or is there really cause for concern for Acton residents.
“It’s certainly coincidental that we’ve had a number of fatal accidents in a short period of time” Martin says, point blankly.
“Unfortunately, it takes a very long time to upgrade all of our infrastructure” Martin does add later, alluding to the fact that Nagireddy is correct and the infrastructure in Acton is sorely out of date.
This, Senator Eldridge can agree with, and he assures the town of Acton that they are actively looking for improve the town’s infrastructure.
“We need to make sure that the town continues to build more sidewalks, create more safe paths and create more bike lanes throughout the town” says Senator Eldridge. He adds that “the challenge is every year there is a plan to build a few more sidewalks but it is often a question of funding.”
One thing that is not up for debate is that Great Road is the one common theme throughout all four of these accidents.
While Great Road is a state road and therefore the road’s speed limit is managed by the state and not the town, it appears as though no one can agree on speeds role in these accidents.
“The police investigations are incomplete” Martin notes, but “it stands to reason that excess speed means less time for drivers to react to pedestrians” he adds, making an obvious but important remark.
Noticing pedestrians on crosswalks and the Bruce Freeman Trail bike path is easier if you’re familiar with the area. This is something Senator Eldridge noted in his interview.
“More signage that the rail trail is approaching will make unfamiliar drivers more aware that there is a lot of pedestrian and bicycle traffic approaching,” said the senator.
Signage seems to be the answer for the town of Acton.
Specifically, “Great Road, that’s an obvious place to start” says Martin.
“We had already started on a project to consider and design improvements to Great Road and the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail” Martin adds. “However, more emphasis needs to be placed on the safety of pedestrian crossings” with more signage and signals for crosswalks.
Despite all of the horrible losses and injuries that has happened in the wake of these accidents, there is hope for the town of Acton.
Senator Eldridge, Nagireddy, Martin and the rest of their council members are committed to creating a safer Great Road and town.
“We have been working closely with Mass DOT to increase safety measures, and Mass DOT has been responsive and I think this year we will see these safety changes” the Senator concludes.
While the town of Acton works to improve the safety of its infrastructure, community members should still be incredibly mindful of their surroundings when outside walking on the side walk, riding their bike, or crossing the street.