Necn Investigates: Traffic Debacle in Newton, Mass. Office Park

Blaring horns have become the soundtrack of the evening commute for drivers trying to get out of the Wells Avenue office park in Newton, Massachusetts, where necn and other businesses are located.

"We've been waiting here for an hour," said Dana Campbell, who snuck in a workout at Boston Sports Club at 135 Wells.

She says she's spent more time crawling through bumper to bumper traffic than sweating at the gym.

Wells Ave. is an island on the Newton/Needham line - one way in, one way out. The 3/4-mile loop normally takes five minutes to get out of, but in recent weeks, commuters say 30 to 60 minutes is the new normal.

"This is ridiculous," said a commuter named Kevin.

The traffic problem is two-fold. One problem is that the state is putting in a new exit ramp off I-95 at Kendrick Street in Needham, about half a mile from the office park. It's a three-year project and construction is eating up valuable asphalt, turning four lanes into three. At night, most of the traffic is battling to get to the highway through one lane going west.

The second problem is snow. The city of Newton hasn't cleared the hulking snow piles to the curb, and vehicles forced to park on the street are turning two lanes into one and a quarter, leaving drivers struggling to move out of the way or move at all.

"People have to get home to kids, they've got meetings they've got to commit to," said Senior Vice President Sean Keavney of Sallie Mae's UPromise.

That company has let employees work from home and stagger their hours, but it hasn't been enough.

"We've still got to do work, and got to do business," said Keavney. "We can’t have a four or five-hour workday."

"Please help us," said Joe Torino, who has worked at UPromise for three months.

Torino says his daily commute to Providence is sometimes doubled.

"Had they told me in the interview process, I would not have taken this position," he said.

Add to the mix an after school tutoring company, a children's sports complex and a gymnastics studio with parents and children darting through traffic.

Many worry about emergencies — how could an ambulance or fire truck make it through?

"If there were ever any sort of environmental emergency, what the hell would we do," asked one woman.

Another woman says she called Newton Police to ask if they could put a police detail here.

"They said that they could not do that," she said. "They said that they won't do that and that they don’t have any plan to do that."

Dori Zaleznik, Newton's chief administrative officer, had not come to see the situation for herself before necn first spoke with her, but that police and the Department of Public Works had told her that significant snow had been removed, that a police detail wasn't necessary and that the traffic situation improved dramatically last week.

"That may have been because school was out [for February break]," she said.

Zaleznik insists the office park is a priority and they are exploring options to ease the pain, such as extended timers on the traffic lights, an additional traffic light or even a new exit out of the office park, though she admits that's a long-term solution mired in red tape - red tape commuters and employers who bring in more than $3.4 million annually in property taxes don't have time to cut.

"If this goes on for thee years, people will leave these jobs, companies will move out, they'll think about breaking leases," said Keavney. "No doubt about it."

Necn reached out to MassDOT, to see if they had any possible solutions. They acknowledged the station's request for comment, but never provided one.

After pushing them for answers, city officials did send a front-end loader to remove snow from the exit to the office park and Zaleznik made a personal visit. After seeing the start of a traffic build-up for herself at 3:30 p.m., she said perhaps they could remove more snow, and consider a police detail and an on-street parking ban.

Necn asked Zaleznik if she'd be willing to stay in the office park for a few hours to experience the commute for herself, but she declined.

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