North Smithfield man crusades to slow traffic, protect his land

North Smithfield man crusades to slow traffic, protect his land

NORTH SMITHFIELD - At first, Douglas Pike resident Jason Richer was just trying to fix his well.

Richer had been having problems since he bought the home, a modest bungalow on the corner of Route 7 and Mowry Road, in May of 2012. Power lines running directly over the front yard above an area where drilling was needed, however, made it difficult to repair and replace.

"I was trying to prove to National Grid that they were on my property," Richer said.

Richer hired professional land surveyor Marc Nyberg and soon learned that more than just electrical lines had made a home on his lot.

"The survey revealed that a state highway and a town of North Smithfield road are on my land," said Richer.

According to the finding, some 25 feet of paved roadway at the intersection, and another several feet along the left side of the property, still belong to the lot.

Richer observed the encroaching pavement's effect on traffic patterns. The 96-foot-wide entrance to Mowry Road does little to encourage drivers coming off of Route 7 to reduce speed as they approach the narrow, winding residential Mowry Road.

It immediately narrows to just 15 feet as it snakes into neighboring Burrillville.

While walking it, Richer frequently finds himself diving out of the way to avoid quick traffic and even fearing for his life.

"This very wide opening invites speeding," Richer said.

On a Saturday night near the end of August, the father of three reached his breaking point. A driver exiting Route 7 had plowed through the wood fencing at the front of his property, then drove off.

Fed up, Richer marked several large barrels with the words "go slow" and used them to narrow the town roadway. He also contacted both the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and the town administrator's office.

In a letter dated Aug. 26, Richer writes about the barrels, "I'm sure it is not welcomed by those passing by but the end result is slower traffic and a safer condition for my family and those who travel by here," to Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton

In the week that followed, Richer says he noticed an improvement.

"I saw an immediate slow down of traffic."

Complaints to local law enforcement, however, soon got the North Smithfield Police Department involved.

Richer said at first officers were sympathetic, and even suggested replacing his white barrels with orange traffic barrels so that the situation would look more official. They also offered to enlist the services of the town's highway department.

But a backlash from drivers in the ensuing days, finds Richer frustrated with what, to him, seems a clear violation of his rights.

"Public perception of where the road is and should be does not negate my property rights nor should I be forced to allow public passage over my own property when doing so puts me and my family at risk," he said.

Police have visited the residence almost daily since the saga began. At times, Richer has been told to move the barrels, which, he points out, may be on the pavement, but have been placed in an area that is within his property line.

Meanwhile, several officers are trying to work with the property owner to get signs installed along the roadway warning 'Narrow Road,' 'Children at Play' and '25 MPH.' They have also posted a radar patrol in his driveway to catch speeders on two occasions between 1 and 2 p.m., but Richer points out that most of the trouble occurs between 4 and 6:30 p.m.

"They couldn't have picked a more traffic-free time in the afternoon," he said.

As The Breeze shot photos of the area Friday afternoon around 4:30 p.m., dozens of cars passed at speeds more suited to a highway off-ramp.

Richer has little hope the signs will be effective but says he's willing to give it a try.

His taxes, he notes, are based on the larger acreage marked out on the assessor's map.

"This road is a lot wider than it should be and that's why they have extra room and I'm providing it," Richer said.

Tire tracks on the grass along the side of the property facing Mowry Road, he says, illustrate his case: drivers are not prepared for the sudden narrowing. He worries that one day the town will decide that section of the road is not wide enough, and pave there, just as they've done historically.

"When a town would pave it or re-pave it, they would widen it over the shoulder created by the cars not staying on the road and through attrition, land owners would lose property," he said.

DOT, meanwhile, told Richer on Aug. 27 that it would respond to his complaint within seven to 10 business days. As of Wednesday morning, Sept. 11, Richer said he had not received a reply.

Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton simply replied that she would forward his email.

On Sept. 9 police again visited the residence, and this time took pictures. Over the weekend, Richer's barrels had been hit three times. He witnessed one driver hitting them intentionally.

"He pushed them several feet with his car and knocked one over before leaving," Richer said.

Currently, the barrels remain standing in the narrow stretch of roadway between Richer's grass and the property line he's marked with a piece of cord.

"It appears that the barrels have made many aware of the potential dangers here," he said. "I see a marked difference now.

People are still speeding past but it isn't as bad as it was before. I suspect that in time, it will return to the way it was before if we do not do something more permanent."

Richer said he has potential solutions for the problem in mind, but no one has approached him to discuss the situation.

"I'm hopeful that when the atate DOT eventually responds, we can remedy this," he said. "There's been no dialog with the town administrator or highway department. Too bad no one bothers to do anything but complain about the barrels."

Comments

I'm sure this road is a problem but I have to say that I've traveled it and those barrels are not in the same place I've seen them in. The spot they were placed when I went by is actually an accident waiting to happen since it makes the road even more narrow and cars come around the corner at you!! In my opinion, those barrels will eventually cause someone to get killed :-(

Really, the best solution is for the State and the Town to give back the land that was stolen from Mr. Richer or compensate him financially and re-do the area to make it safe. I also live in North Smithfield and travel Route 7 and I can tell you that people can be real jerks on that road. Speed limits mean nothing to them. Most are from Massachusetts coming to and from Fidelity or they come from Burrillville. Either way, they could care less about the people's homes they fly by because they're late for work, etc. It would be nice to see police set up a speed trap between 7:00am and 9:00am and also from 4:00pm to 6:00pm. You could generate a lot of money for the town by doing that!

It is interesting to find an article about the house I grew up in many years ago! It is a dangerous spot. I remember how fast cars traveled on route 7 as well as Mowry Road. I wish the owner good luck fixing the problem as well as getting the proper use for his new found property. Good luck.

Any fears of motorists passing here can be negated by driving more slowly.
If anything on the edge of the road or the width of the road poses a danger, it is due to drivers passing by at speeds too great for the conditions. Learn to stop and allow opposing vehicles to pass rather than try and squeeze by where there is limited room.

Frankly, the roadway is too narrow for two way travel.
Just yesterday, we witnessed a Lazyboy delivery truck having to back out 150 feet to the intersection in order to allow a school bus through.

Two large vehicles cannot fit on this road and pass one another even with one of them up on my lawn with part of their vehicle. Just think what happens when pedestrians or cyclists are also on the road...

The State DOT has been here and I've been told a solution is forthcoming.
Please be patient while a remedy is formulated and PLEASE-PLEASE-PLEASE!!!! pass by slowly and with care.

Thank you,
Jason Richer