MANCHESTER — Of the town's four proposed Compete Streets projects, one is set to go into construction later this fall, two are on hold for the time being, and one is still being discussed with members of the community due to the controversy surrounding it.

Town Administrator Greg Federspiel said he hopes the Washington, Summer and Sea streets project will be completed before the snow season starts. Among other safety changes, the project calls for wider curb corners at the end of Washington and Sea streets. This will narrow the roadway at the intersection and force drivers to slow down while crossing Summer Street.

The cost for the project clocks in around $137,000, a far cry from its early design estimate of around $48,000. In fact, all four Complete Streets projects went out to bid at a total $660,000, about 2 1/2 times higher than the $265,000 grant initially awarded for the projects by the state Department of Transportation in 2017. With the current funding, Federspiel said the town is focusing its attention on completing only two projects. Depending how much has been spent from the grant, Federspiel said the town may dip into its own to funds round out the costs.

Initially, Federspiel and selectmen figured the Beach Street shared use path would be the Complete Streets project to follow the Washington, Summer and Sea streets intersection improvements. Once completed, the 10-foot-wide path from Masconomo Street to the beach parking lot would be available to pedestrians and bicyclists alike. However, after the selectmen's meeting on Monday, those plans may have been put on hold. Residents at Monday's meeting said they believed the Central/Union/School streets project was more pressing. Problem is, the town isn't comfortable with going forward on it as members of the community haven't reached a strong enough consensus on what the project's design should be.

During a selectmen's meeting about the Complete Streets early design phase in March, residents were concerned that the plans for the Central/Union/School street intersection would remove parking spots on Union Street and in front of 7 Central St. It was argued that fewer parking spots could have a negative effect on downtown businesses. In response, members of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown, the design firm hired for the Complete Streets projects, indicated that more spaces could be added elsewhere downtown.

On Monday, these arguments were brought up again, although the latest design would cause a net loss of only one parking spot. Chris Shea, a member of the Downtown Improvement Committee, spoke against the project as it stands, while Albert Centner, chairman of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, was in favor. At the end of the public comment period, selectmen said if the Downtown Improvement and Bicycle and Pedestrian committees are willing to come to a consensus, they would be willing to review the committees' ideas at their next meeting on Oct. 21. 

The fourth project in the Complete Street package is at the Beach and Union streets intersection. Like the Washington/Summer/Sea intersection, the project calls for new curb corners to slow down traffic.

Federspiel said the town will not look to fund the remaining projects until the costs for the first two projects have been finalized.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

 

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