(FOX UNDERCOVER) - Despite evidence of numerous dangerous intersections in Stoughton, lawmakers slipped an earmark into a state transportation bond bill that would have spent $500,000 or more to install a traffic light outside the town's state representative's condominium complex.
Lawmakers reversed course and asked that the money be spent elsewhere in Stoughton only after a three-year-old girl was struck and killed by a truck in a Route 27 intersection that had already been identified as one in need of safety improvements.
"Very unsafe," was how Mark Tisdale, Stoughton Assistant Town Engineer, called the intersection where Shayla Lutz died while crossing busy Route 27 in front of Hansen Elementary School.
Tisdale and other officials spoke at a press conference last week to talk about much-needed changes to the area.
"We're now receiving quotes, hopefully, with our good friends from the state, if we can get some funding," said John Batchelder, Stoughton's Public Works Superintendent.
The original earmark was for Route 27, but not at that perilous intersection. Instead, the earmark inside the lengthy bond bill signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in August set aside the half-million dollars for "signalization improvements at the intersection of Route 27 and Erin Road," the intersection that state Rep. Louis Kafka approaches when he leaves his unit at Knollsbrook Condomiums.
FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked officials about the original plan.
"Have there been problems down by Erin Road?" Beaudet asked.
"I think that would be something the chief could answer better than I could as far as accidents go, and so forth," replied Batchelder.
"Did the state ask for your input?" Beaudet asked him.
"No," replied Batchelder.
Beaudet asked Stoughton Police Chief Paul Shastany about the Erin Road intersection.
"That has not been a priority," Shastany said.
"Were you surprised the state approved that money?" Beaudet asked.
"I have no comment on my reaction to it," Shastany replied.
"Did you ask for it?" Beaudet asked.
"No, I did not," the chief replied.
Local columnist Mark Snyder first wrote about the traffic light planned for outside Kafka's condo complex on his website, http://www.snydersstoughton.com/.
"It was a big surprise to all the town officials," Snyder said.
"Do you think stories like this make people suspicious of state government?" Beaudet asked him.
"I think they do, and in fact in these times where we're trying to tighten our belts and we're being told to tighten our belts, it's really important that governments are transparent," he said.
Transparency was just what FOX Undercover was after when we talked to the elected officials representing Stoughton on Beacon Hill.
State Sen. Brian A. Joyce, Senate Chair of the Legislature's Bonding Committee, also represents Stoughton. He said he didn't know Kafka lived in the abutting condo complex.
"I don't know that that's relevant, but no," he said.
"No idea? Did he ask for it?" Beaudet asked.
"Representative Kafka and I did not speak about that particular traffic light in Stoughton," Joyce said.
When we asked to speak with Kafka, the Stoughton Democrat's spokesman said he was unavailable. So FOX Undercover caught up with him on his way to a meeting.
"I've been busy," he told FOX Undercover.
"Was that about helping yourself out?" Beaudet asked.
"No," Kafka replied.
"How did it come about?" Beaudet asked.
"Just trying to figure out a way to stop traffic or slow down traffic on Central Street," Kafka replied.
"You live in that condo complex, don't you?" Beaudet asked.
"I do," Kafka replied.
"How'd the idea come about?" Beaudet asked.
"Rep. (William) Galvin put the amendment in. It wasn't my amendment," Kafka replied.
"You had nothing to do with that?" Beaudet asked.
"We talked about it," Kafka replied.
Galvin, a Canton Democrat who also represents part of Stoughton, says Kafka never lobbied him to file the amendment.
They both say the request for the traffic light came from constituents, but neither would provide us with any names of people who called them or copies of emails they received.
A 2008 study of Route 27 by the Old Colony Planning Council recommends improvements to many intersections on Route 27, but there's no mention of the intersection by Kafka's condo.
The state's list of the most dangerous intersections lists two spots in Stoughton, but neither is Kafka's intersection.
"Town officials say they were caught off guard by it, they didn't know anything about it, that there are other dangerous intersections on this stretch of road." Beaudet asked Kafka
"There are. We've already sent a letter to the governor asking them to look at the whole stretch of road. It's not written in stone," Kafka said.
"Is that about saving face because a little girl died?" Beaudet asked.
"No," Kafka said.
FOX Undercover asked the Patrick administration's Transportation Secretary Richard Davey about the earmark.
"Can you see why people would hear about this and say something stinks here?" Beaudet asked.
"Yeah, I could see that," replied Davey.
Davey says lawmakers put many earmarks in the transportation bond bill, but that most won't get funding.
"Will there be money for that state rep's traffic light?" Beaudet asked.
"Unlikely, I mean again, I haven't looked at it closely but it's certainly not among the top crash sites, if you will. It's not something specifically that I've heard from constituents in Stoughton, and unfortunately, I've said this a number of times about transportation, the current system we have we can't afford, the one we all want is out of reach," Davey said.
Legislators representing Stoughton sent a letter to the governor after Lutz's death asking for the money authorized for the traffic light by Kafka's condo to now be used for yet another study of traffic in the area.
"Do you still think there should be a light there?" Beaudet asked Kafka.
"There should be a light somewhere along Central Street. Wherever it should go, and highway engineers make that decision, that would be good with me," Kafka replied.
"This one would have made it easier for you to leave your home every morning though, wouldn't it?" Beaudet asked.
"It depends on which direction I'd be going in, but no not really. Not really," Kafka replied.
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