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Follow the Yellow Brick Road…but stay away from Main Street

In his letter to the editor, Carl Stewart of Alford writes: "There is a specific statute that deals with the liability of towns for damage caused by improperly maintained roads; it is MGL, chapter 84, section 15. (MGL is the General Laws of Massachusetts.)"

To the Editor:

In the space of two days a couple of weeks ago, half a dozen cars were towed to repair shops in Great Barrington. The damage ranged from punctured oil pans, broken shock absorbers, axles, and tie rod ends, wheels knocked out of round, and the like. All of this carnage was preventable.

There is an old saying;  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The administrators of the Town of Great Barrington seem to have turned this adage on its head. Our lovely Main Street, which was pretty nice as it was, got fixed to the tune of about $5.5 million. (Yes, almost all of the money spent was wasted by the Commonwealth and not by Great Barrington, but don’t think that this was free. Massachusetts did not get the money to spend by winning the lottery!) And the infrastructure, particularly the roads, which was sorely in need of fixing, was left to languish and further deteriorate.

I live in Alford but I travel into town daily by way of Alford Road. For years, once the town line into Great Barrington is crossed about a mile south of the town center of Alford, the trip has been an exercise in avoiding an almost unbroken succession of potholes. A recent visitor from Manhattan told me that he knew of no street in the City which was as in such poor repair. And during the beautification of Main Street in Great Barrington, there were dozens of unguarded traps for the unsuspecting.

How did we reach this sorry state of affairs? It is not particularly important whether it was mal or misfeasance by the people in the town who are tasked with its administration. One of Great Barrington’s Selectmen, a/k/a, the Great Conciliator, has admonished us not to criticize because the decisions are being made by people of good will. As I’ve said before, one can be both well-meaning and incompetent.

Can anything be done? Well, for starters you can ask the town to pay for the repairs. There is a specific statute that deals with the liability of towns for damage caused by improperly maintained roads; it is MGL, chapter 84, section 15. (MGL is the General Laws of Massachusetts.) Anyone contemplating filing a claim under the law should be aware of the fact that there is a very short notice period and that the failure to file a claim within this period will be sufficient to defeat the claim regardless of its merit. We may be loath to hit someone when they’re down, but sometimes appeals to reason are insufficient when reason is in short supply.

Carl I. Stewart

Alford

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