Selectmen Brace For Extended Discussion About Intersection Plans

By: Tim Wood

Proposed improvements to the Route 28-Crowell Road intersection will go before the board of selectmen Nov. 14. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM – Stakes showing the extent of the state-owned right-of-way along a portion of the Route 28-Crowell Road intersection have some worried that improvements there will be “massive.”

“I guarantee people are going to be horrified by the amount of pavement that's going to go in,” said resident Elaine Gibbs.

Only a portion of the right-of-way – on the east side of the intersection – was staked out by a hired land surveyor after town staff could not locate the property bounds. Police Chief Mark Pawlina, who is serving as acting town manager while Jill Goldsmith is out of town, said he halted further staking after learning the initial surveying cost $1,800, and staking the entire intersection would cost another $5,000 to $6,000.

In August selectmen tentatively chose one of three alternative designs for an upgraded intersection, calling for expanding the intersection with new signals and turning lanes (Option 3). The other options offered by consultant Howard Stein Hudson (HSH) were a roundabout (Option 2) or doing nothing (Option 1). The board is scheduled to get an update on the project from the consultants next Tuesday, Nov. 14, which board members said will be a continuation in what are likely to be extensive discussions about the project.

Selectmen had asked that the stakes be placed around the intersection to show the extent of their favored option, but that didn't happen, said board member Amanda Love.

“We asked for Option 3, and we didn't get Option 3,” she said. “So we just wasted $1,800.” Just the area that was staked, however, showed that at least sections of the proposed plan would be more than 50 feet wide, which she said is wider than the Sagamore Bridge.

“It's quite a large plan that's being projected out,” Love said. “If you just look at the staking, it's massive.”

Board members said that while a majority indicated they favored Option 3, the design remains subject to change. “To me these are concepts,” said Selectman Dean Nicastro. “I think it can be scaled back.”

Now may not be the best time to stake out the entire layout, agreed Chairman Cory Metters.

“I'd hate to stake it now for five grand, move some components and then stake it again for another five grand,” he said.

Others, including Gibbs, favored staking out the layout of Option 3 now. If staking is further delayed, weather could impact the ability to accomplish the task and more people will leave town for the winter and thus not be able to see the extent of the proposal. While a majority of the $2 million-plus cost of the intersection improvements will be paid by the state and federal governments, the town is responsible for the $150,000 to $200,000 in design costs, Gibbs said.

“Before we spend $200,000, you need to spend $5,000” to understand the full impact of Option 3, she said.

Resident Norma Avellar questioned the need for the project. Reconfiguring the timing and location of the existing traffic lights would be sufficient, she said. The state highway department, which is overseeing the project, “is certainly not an ally of the town,” she added, and the consultant's plans will “create a monster at that intersection, and we don't need to do it.”

Doing nothing at the intersection is “not really a viable option,” Metters said. “If we do nothing, the state will probably do something” without the town's input. He would rather the town be involved because what the state might do there “is not necessarily the option we want.”

The board decided not to do further staking of the intersection but voted to ask HSH to prepare visual overlays that show the impact of Options 2 and 3 for next Tuesday's meeting. The board also extended the public comment period, which ended Tuesday, by one day. Comments submitted by the public can be found on the project's website, www.chathamcrowellroad.info. More than 100 have been received, Metters said.

HSH will provide a summary of the comments at next week's meeting, which Metters said won't be “done in one,” but will be a continuation of what he expects will be a long discussion about the project.

“Buckle in for a good meeting,” he said.