The state just changed the merge rules at the Centennial Drive/Route 128 intersection

(Tom Walsh)

PEABODY — For years, merging onto Centennial Drive from Route 128 has defied all the (admittedly limited) expectations of Massachusetts drivers.

The rules of the road, when intermittently followed, tend to have drivers pretending to merge when entering from the right while those entering from the left do their best to keep their feet glued to the gas pedal.

But not on Centennial Drive. Until this summer, the traffic pattern has squarely placed the yield responsibilities on the motorists entering Centennial Drive from Exit 28 on Route 128 South and Forest Street on the left-hand side of the road.

“When I ran for state representative, there was a lot of talk about this,” said state Representative Tom Walsh. “I’m also on the city council, and we asked the state to look at this and alleviate the hazard.”

This summer, the state took action. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation repaved the roadway and changed the lane reconfiguration heading into Centennial Drive. Those entering onto Centennial Drive from Route 128 North are now faced with the yield sign.

“Traffic flowing over the bridge from Route 128 South, as well as from Forest Street now have the right of way heading toward Centennial Drive,” said Walsh.

In addition to the request from the City Council, Walsh said he has also worked alongside the city’s community development department and Peabody Police Captain Scott Richards to come up with a safer, more intuitive traffic flow for the stretch of road.

“The old pattern totally went against the way we were taught to drive,” said Ward 4 Councilor Ed Charest. “That’s the common complaint I’ve heard from people coming down that way into Ward 4. There were so many near accidents from people not yielding when they should, or people rearending drivers who were yielding.”

Cheryl Holbart Millard said she has already noticed the difference in the flow of traffic since the change, with the lanes allowing everyone to yield and then merge.

“I’ve been driving to Centennial for 13 years and this is the best configuration yet,” said Millard. “I agree that people need to slow down for everyone’s safety.”

The state-funded Centennial Drive resurfacing and maintenance project cost $1.5 million and included work beyond the intersection as well as drainage improvements along the roadway, according to Walsh.

“It’s a tough intersection anyway, and there are other areas in the city people are concerned about, but we are doing our best,” said Walsh.

Reaction to the news on Walsh’s state representative Facebook page has been mainly positive, but of course, there will always be those who point out that too many people mistake yield signs for stop signs.

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