While acknowledging it may cost him parking spots out front and across the street, Dean Salah said there's no doubt Washington Street needs fixing — and soon.
Salah owns George's Coffee Shop on the corner of Washington Street and Centennial Avenue. Between it and Tony's Variety across the street, and other adjacent businesses like What's Cookin' and Glazed, residents and customers keep the sides of Washington Street packed from Whittemore Street past the Oak Grove Cemetery much of the times, especially mornings through the middle of the business day.
The Washington Street Corridor project, developed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, will cut a few of those spaces as it repaves the road and sets in new sidewalks designed to meet the needs of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
And while the project took a step forward last week, with the DOT presenting it and drawing resident and business' owners' input, the department won't break ground until 2015, state officials say.
The project, Ward 3 City Councilor Steve LeBlanc has said, fixes the city's front door. At the Wednesday meeting, he said people harped on parking spaces but were behind moving the project ahead.
"If we don't do some of it soon, we're going to be stuck with the bill rather than DOT," said LeBlanc.
For the state and federal government to fund it, said Community Development Department Project Manager Steven Winslow, it has to be ADA compliant. That, he said, means a few curb extensions, or so-called bumpouts or "nubbins." Those "nubbins," if put in place, will be designed to allow for handicap accessible ramps on the sidewalks, officials said.
Washington Street doesn't have any at the moment, and Winslow said people in wheelchairs have to ride out in the street. Putting a ramp on a sidewalk requires ten feet of sidewalk space, and along Washington Street much of the sidewalk is about five feet across.
"Where there's not sufficient sidewalk to accommodate a ramp, we'll have to do a 'nubbin,'" he said.
People walking on Washington Street will notice the improvements more than drivers will, Winslow indicated.
Aside from paving and some grading at the hill after the Railroad Avenue intersection, much of the work revolves around sidewalks.
The city started thinking about the Washington Street project six years ago, Winslow said, and spent $500,000 on design. The project will remain in the hands of the DOT, Winslow said, but the city had to design it to get the ball rolling.
Last Wednesday night, city and DOT officials presented the preliminary 25 percent design, and residents have 30 days to send in their thoughts to the department. The city has hired Bayside Engineering to do the design.
After this, the project needs to get on the DOT transportation improvement list, and Winslow said he doesn't expect it to break ground until around 2015.
He is projecting it to cost around $4.3 million, with a $3 million federal high priority project funding earmark covering most of it, and with that money leveraging $700,000 in state funds as well.
The rest of the project, Winslow said, will probably be up to the city.
By all counts, Washington is a hard street for pedestrians and people in wheelchairs to navigate — and, in some places, for able pedestrians as well. Trees have splintered much of the walkway past Greely's Funeral home, and those sidewalks aren't handicap accessible.
And while the Department of Transportation knows what the businesses need on that street. Salah said, the project has to get done.
As for the parking, Salah said he's asked LeBlanc to find a way to get some time-limited spaces from Grove Street past the cemetery.
As it is, he said, the city doesn't mark spaces on Washington Street and doesn't have an official number of parking spots to work with. But spots where people can park near George's, Salah said, sometimes get taken up by commuters avoiding fares at the train station.
"On the weekend," he said, "it's a lot easier, which leads me to believe it's clearly commuter parking."
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.