EASTHAM — Every driver who enters Eastham via Route 6 is greeted by an orange sign warning that the next 6.2 miles of highway are a “High Traffic Enforcement Area.” Most local drivers already know this. But when it comes to actually slowing the cars on the town’s main drag, said select board chair Art Autorino, the signs “are absolutely worthless.
“I like to say we live in the grandstands of the Indianapolis 500,” he added. “Route 6 is horrible.”
For many Eastham residents, Route 6 feels like too much highway and not enough Main Street. “It is one of the number-one frustrations we hear,” said Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe.
The town’s five-year strategic plan calls for that to change. That’s why, Beebe said, the town has “bitten the bullet” and hired a traffic engineer, Jim Fitzgerald of Environmental Partners, to analyze four years of data collected by the Mass. Dept. of Transportation (DOT). But any changes to the road would require approval from the state. According to Beebe, the timeline for a project like that is roughly six years.
In the meantime, for motorists entering Eastham, the speed limit dips to 40 miles per hour (from 45 in Wellfleet and 50 on the Mid-Cape Highway). Despite that drop and the warnings of a higher police presence, speeders going 50 and 60 mph are not unusual, according to a letter the select board sent to the state police and to the DOT in April.
It’s not that the local police are ignoring the problem. “I’m always telling officers that one of their top priorities is traffic enforcement on Route 6,” said Eastham Police Chief Adam Bohannon.
The Eastham Police Dept.’s reputation for making more traffic stops than those in neighboring towns is borne out by statistics. From 2018 to 2020, Eastham police made 8,663 traffic stops. During that same period, Wellfleet officers made 4,071 stops and Orleans police made 6,092.
There is also a structural issue at play: Route 6 is four lanes wide through Eastham, allowing drivers to pass others freely. In the summer, up to 30,000 motorists per day cross the town on Route 6, many of them passing through with no other available route. Meanwhile, unlike in neighboring communities, Route 6 serves as Eastham’s main street. For those who live, work, or visit shops here, traversing the busy roadway is a daily struggle.
“The road cleaves the town in half,” said Beebe, “and we don’t have a left turn into a quaint little town like Wellfleet.”
In its April letter, the select board requested an increased presence of state troopers on Route 6 to help with traffic enforcement, as well as permission from the DOT to put up flashing radar speeding signs along the roadway.
Bohannon said that in the spring the state police did send more officers to assist with traffic patrol, but the help waned during summer. “We’re hoping that it comes back this fall,” said Bohannon. He also said the town has replaced an unmarked patrol car and recently received a grant of roughly $8,000 to help pay for additional traffic enforcement patrols.
Outside the Eastham Public Library last Sunday afternoon, a reporter from the Independent asked seven passers-by for their thoughts about the idea of increased traffic enforcement. All seven thought Eastham has a significant speeding problem on Route 6.
“I don’t want to blame people from Truro and Provincetown,” said Debbie Abbott, who lives in town and is president of the Friends of the Eastham Public Library. “People in Eastham speed, too. But some people just fly through town. What, are you trying to win the race to the rotary?”
But, she added, “Speed patrol isn’t a 24/7 solution.”
Bohannon said that, at a minimum, he wants to install two flashing speed signs near the Orleans and Wellfleet town lines, to say “Here’s the speed limit” as one enters Eastham. The town has received permission to put up six signs along Route 6, though there is no timetable for their installation, he said.
The Eastham police also have one pop-up flashing radar sign set up on a grass island at Route 6 and Governor Prence Road that tells drivers their speed. Outside the police station, where in the past a portable programmable sign has reminded residents about an important town meeting or vote, the flashing orange lights read: “Please observe speed limit. 40 MPH.”
Any plan to smooth and slow Route 6 traffic from the Orleans rotary to the Wellfleet town line will be “enormously” expensive, according to Beebe. After Fitzgerald submits an initial plan, the community will have opportunities to give opinions. Assuming residents support the project, town officials would bring it to the state for further approval and help with funding.
The creation of a walkable town center along Route 6 is a top priority for creating a sense of town identity and maximizing economic opportunities, according to the strategic plan. Town planners want to give both residents and visitors an easier way to stop at this future town center, because right now, said Beebe, “Mostly, you’re just driving through Eastham.”