Federal mandate to link highway signs with mileposts called confusing, wasteful.
HYANNIS — Massachusetts initially balked at a federal mandate to renumber its highway exits, and most who attended a public information session Tuesday night on the pending changes on the Cape registered their continuing opposition.
“It’s very clear to the Cape (legislative) delegation that this is entirely a waste of funds which could be used for different purposes,” said Dorothy Smith, chief of staff for state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown. “We think this will be more confusing, it detracts from the character of Cape Cod and we would really like to see an exemption for Cape Cod.”
State Rep. William Crocker, R-Barnstable, agreed, saying it was an example of fixing something that wasn’t broken.
Massachusetts is one of only three states in the country that do not use mileposts for their highway exit numbers. That will change come late summer, when the state plans to comply with federal highway standards and change the current sequential exit numbers, including those on Route 6, to coordinate with mile markers.
That means tourists coming to Hyannis will no longer get off at Exit 6 but at Exit 68, because the exit is 68 miles from the start of Route 6, at the Rhode Island border in Seekonk. Instead of taking Exit 12 to go to Orleans, motorists will get off at Exit 89.
Representatives of the state Department of Transportation came to the Hyannis Transportation Center as part of a series of public meetings to explain the changes and take comments from Cape Codders.
Only a handful of people attended, and most were against the idea.
In 2010, several New England states and New York banded together to oppose the change, asking the federal government to rework the requirement or exempt the region, said Neil Boudreau, assistant administrator for traffic and safety at the Department of Transportation.
But the states were told they had to comply. Massachusetts stalled for a bit, but the transportation department eventually committed to make the change by January 2022.
Replacement of signs on the Cape is expected to be completed by spring 2021.
The impetus behind mile marker instead of sequential exits is to make it easier for drivers to determine how far they are from their destination, provide more accurate locations for emergency responders, reduce maintenance costs should a new exit ever be installed and allow for national uniformity, Boudreau said.
Although those reasons may make sense in other places, Smith said, she didn’t see how they helped on Cape Cod, where emergency responders know where they are going and few people care how far they are from Rhode Island.
“It just defies imagination at this point that anyone would think that this is going to be an extra safety thing,” she said.
The state did try to get Route 6 designated as a historical roadway, but there is no such designation that would exempt the Cape, Boudreau said.
Only one person who attended Tuesday’s meeting applauded the planned change.
David Schropfer, of Eastham, thought renumbering would be helpful because tourists from across the country could come to Cape Cod and be familiar with the exit system.
“If we want to build it up and make it easier for people to travel here and to know where they are going, this is the system that they use everywhere else until they get here,” he said.
Others questioned how the change could affect businesses that may already have printed information about exits on informational brochures for tourists. This would add another burden on businesses that already have a slim profit margin, said Bill Doherty, of Cataumet.
The conversion will start in Western Massachusetts and work its way east. Route 6 is slated to be the last road in the state converted, and the department promised it would not happen during the summer.
A tab on top of the current signs would show the new exit number and another tab below the sign would show the old exit. The old exit signs would stay up for at least two years.
The Department of Transportation has met with AAA and tourism officials, and has talked to mapping services such as Google Maps, Apple Maps and Waze about the change. Officials promised the Cape’s response to the issue would be passed along.
“We’ve heard the concerns, and we are going to bring those back to Federal Highway (Administration),” Boudreau said.