The work by crews that this week cleared away the sidewalk from a roughly quarter-mile stretch on the east side of Washington Street should be welcome to Gloucester residents and businesses alike, including those that may be temporarily inconvenienced.
That work not only aims to carry out badly needed sidewalk repairs and replacement — notably on stretches where the pavement has been torn, patched and parsed by tree roots and other obstructions. And it will not only result in a new greenway between the sidewalk and the street, with new trees.
At its core, this roughly $200,000 project, carried out by Public Works Director Mike Hale, with the use of a Community Development Department block grant, shows the city is willing to go forward on its own with perhaps the most essential pieces of a larger Washington Street project — one that’s been on drawing boards since at least 2008 and is still awaiting state funding of $3 million, secured at this point by state Sen. Bruce Tarr in a still-pending transportation bond bill.
The current work clearly addresses the need for better and safer pedestrian access along one of Gloucester’s busiest streets outside of its downtown. It will provide far better access for the disabled, further addressing a need that remains problematic in many parts of the city. And it’s clearly being done through working with, not against, Washington Street businesses.
That’s illustrated by the talks among Hale, contractor Mike Nocella of Nocella Paving, and George’s of Gloucester coffee shop owner Dean Salah, who praised Hale and others for being considerate and willing to work out schedules that will minimize any parking impacts that could have been crippling.
Hale was absolutely right in noting that a previous state Department of Transportation project — with parking-place killing bump outs and a Centennial/Grove Street traffic light — was not what many Gloucester residents wanted or needed. And before the larger state project goes forward, it’s still essential for residents and business owners to have input on its final design.
In the meantime, it’s good to know that Hale and other city officials are willing to go forward and carry out the level of Washington Street project the city clearly needs. That’s the kind of call local officials must be able to make.