WELLFLEET — It seems nobody and nothing is truly safe on Route 6 — not even the utility poles.
At about 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 7, Philip Zimmerman, 38, of South Dennis was driving north on Route 6 when he “struck and snapped” a utility pole in front of the Even’tide Motel, according to the Wellfleet police. Zimmerman continued driving the 2016 Chevrolet van, belonging to Aboody Electric of Dennis, for about a quarter mile before hitting and snapping a second utility pole in front of M.A. Frazier Enterprises. The vehicle came to rest near Bob’s Sub and Cone against a third pole, which was unharmed.
Kendra Lindberg of Wellfleet, driving to her job at Bay Sales Marine, was behind Zimmerman’s van when it suddenly “jerked to the right and kicked up a bunch of dirt,” she said. She backed off and saw the van swerve right again, hitting the pole near the Even’tide.
“The next thing you know, he jerks back onto the road and keeps going,” Lindberg said. “I thought, is this a movie? You stop when you hit the pole. You don’t keep going.”
The police reported that Zimmerman was taken to Cape Cod Hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening and no one else was injured. He is being charged with three counts, including negligent operation of a motor vehicle and leaving the scene of property damage, according to Wellfleet Deputy Police Chief Kevin LaRocco.
Neither Zimmerman nor Matt Aboody of Aboody Electric responded to requests for comment.
Electric wires were lying across the highway when police arrived at the scene. Matt Frazier said the second snapped pole “did significant damage” to three of his employees’ vehicles. He said the impact uprooted underground wires and pulled them out of his meter box. William Hinkle of Eversource Energy said the crash caused nearly 250 customers to lose power. All had power restored by 5:30 that afternoon, said Hinkle.
Frazier told the Independent he has seen several accidents on this stretch of road. He noted that because there are no easy detours off Route 6, some accidents can shut down traffic for hours.
“Route 6 became a parking lot,” he said.
A String of Incidents
The Wellfleet crash followed two other cases of unsafe driving on Route 6 on June 5 and 6. All three, on three consecutive days, illustrate the highway’s safety risks.
It is Cape Cod’s central artery, carrying steady traffic from the Sagamore Bridge to Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown. With few traffic lights, no left-turn lanes, and little provision for sidewalks or bike lanes, Route 6 on the Outer Cape can be hair-raising for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians alike.
“An undivided two-lane road is not the safest thing in the world,” said former Wellfleet Fire Chief Dan Silverman. “People just need to learn patience.”
“Massachusetts drivers are notoriously undisciplined,” he added. The highway “was not really built to handle the volume of traffic it has to deal with,” said Silverman.
“With the drastic increase in traffic each spring and summer comes crashes and aggressive driving,” wrote Eastham Police Chief Adam Bohannon in an email.
Just one day before the Zimmerman incident, at about 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6, Truro, Wellfleet, and Eastham police responded to multiple 911 calls about two motorcycles “being operated in a highly erratic manner,” according to a press release from Wellfleet police.
Two men, identified as Danilo Vasquez-Jimenez and Luis Fernando Gil Mejia, were reportedly going more than 100 miles per hour. Heading north in Truro, they were intercepted by Truro police and turned back toward Wellfleet, the release said.
“Vasquez-Jimenez and Gil Mejia were seen by witnesses weaving in and out of traffic, passing against pavement marking in areas where passing is not permitted and failing to maintain marked lanes,” the police reported.
The two men, both 26 and from Revere, were arrested by Eastham and Wellfleet police in the parking lot of the 7-11 in Eastham and will each face five charges, including negligent operation of a motor vehicle and speeding, police said.
Route 6 was also the site of a four-vehicle crash in Eastham at Massasoit Road on Monday, June 5. Three people were transported to the hospital with “serious but non-life-threatening injuries,” Daniel Deschamps, Eastham’s deputy chief of police, wrote in an email. Five others were uninjured.
Deschamps confirmed that one of the vehicles was attempting to make a left turn from the highway, a maneuver that is particularly problematic in Eastham, which has a high concentration of curb cuts on Route 6. Without a left-turn lane, cars must come to a complete stop in the middle of the highway and wait for a lull in oncoming traffic.
Plans for Improvements
Though efforts to improve Route 6 safety are underway in both Wellfleet and Eastham, Outer Cape residents will likely not see a reworked roadway for several years.
Eastham presents a uniquely tricky case because Route 6 cuts directly through its town center. Despite a lower speed limit of 40 miles per hour in Eastham, frequent turns and fast-moving vehicles in the town center have been a scourge for years, Eastham Select Board member Aimee Eckman said.
“It’s so dangerous that we’ve been talking for years about things to try to help alleviate some of the pressure out there,” she said.
“It’s my pet peeve,” said the select board’s Arthur Autorino. “It has been since I’ve lived here. I personally drive 40 miles an hour on Route 6, and they’re zipping by me left and right.”
Eastham’s efforts culminated in a town-initiated proposal to redesign Route 6 in North Eastham, part of the town’s five-year strategic plan. Assembled by engineering firm Environmental Partners, it was presented to the select board in January.
The proposal suggests a “road diet” in places that would narrow the two lanes on each side to one and add a turning lane in the middle. These could be implemented at the intersections with Brackett and Massasoit roads, though Autorino said the locations for turning lanes are not finalized. The plan also includes a concrete median and separate lanes shared by pedestrians and cyclists.
The design still needs approval from the Mass. Department of Transportation. Once MassDOT signs off, Eastham officials will have to assemble financing for construction, which will likely involve securing federal Transportation Improvement Program funds through the Cape Cod Commission, Eckman said.
It may be five years before Outer Cape residents see the redesign happen, Eckman guessed.
Route 6 in Wellfleet is also due for improvements. As part of a plan to repave the roadway, the state will be redoing traffic markings, including for bike lanes, and constructing “modified sidewalks” between the Eastham town line and Main Street, according to Wellfleet DPW Director Jay Norton.
The town and MassDOT are also pursuing a substantial redesign of the intersection of Route 6 and Main Street. The plan includes sidewalks on each side of Route 6 and the north side of Main Street, five-foot bike lanes with a two-foot painted buffer on each side, updated signal equipment, and a left-turn lane into the Outer Cape Health Services pharmacy, Norton said.
Norton said that bids for both projects will be advertised on either June 24 or July 1, though a MassDOT moratorium on summer work prevents construction from starting until the fall at the earliest. Though Norton said he did not know the duration of the repaving work, he anticipates construction on the Main Street project lasting between six and seven years.
In the meantime, officials in both towns said they wish reckless motorists on Route 6 would simply slow down.
“It’s kind of like we’re sitting on the sidelines of the Indianapolis 500, watching these cars zipping by at 50, 60 miles an hour,” Autorino said. Especially now that the town is redeveloping its town center, he said, “we want Eastham to be an end destination, not some place you pass through.”