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Dozens of Boston residents and community groups voiced their concerns Tuesday over a proposal to dramatically change the routes that Hazmat trucks can take through the city.
For many North End residents and city officials, it does not make sense to allow trucks to pass through the North End if they are making deliveries elsewhere.
Boston Transportation Commissioner Thomas Tinlin is among those pushing for a plan to require trucks carrying hazardous material to use Route 128 around the city, instead of cutting through it.
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"The transport of hazardous material through the city of Boston just because it's a shorter route (by) the people who are not picking up material and who are not delivering material, who are bringing no benefit to the people who live and work and visit our city, is unsafe," Tinlin said at a public hearing in Boston Tuesday night.
The hearing was the first of four hearings the state is holding on the proposed route.
Most of the residents who testified agreed, citing concerns ranging from noise at night to potential danger to employees, residents, the environment and historic sites if there was a major accident in the North End.
But truck owners like John Hamel, of J & S Transport Co. in Lynn, say those concerns are overblown for the short distance through the city.
"If we're driving through the city of Boston (for) 1.5 miles, you are not going to roll that vehicle over," Hamel said, citing more than two decades of experience driving trucks. "There might be minor fender benders, which may occur here and there, but there's never been anything serious."
Hamel said the bigger threat is on expressways such as Route 128, where the speeds are higher and the risk of rolling over a tanker and causing a big accident is much greater.
He said the longer route could also mean longer waits and higher costs for gasoline and home heating oil.
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"If we take a two-hour delivery to Quincy and we turn that into a four- or five-hour delivery, the productivity is cut by 50 percent," Hamel said.
Under that scenario, Hamel would anticipate needing to double the number of trucks his company has on the road, "onto a highway that can no longer handle the capacity that it's running at today," he said.
But Tinlin said the issue is plain and simple: it's safer for trucks to use Route 128, no matter what kind of accident could occur.
"It doesn't matter if it's a rollover, an explosion, a truck that breaks down and impedes the flow of traffic and pedestrian safety," Tinlin said. "The simple fact of the matter ... clearly shows that the 128 route, a road that was built and designed for the purpose of interstate and intrastate commerce, is the safest way to move hazardous materials through."
State transportation officials are holding another hearing on the proposal in Quincy Wednesday night and two more hearings next week.
They are also accepting public comments until Sept. 23.
This program aired on August 24, 2011.
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