CHATHAM – Residents will have an opportunity to comment and make suggestions on landscaping that will go along with the West Chatham Roadway Project at a public meeting to be held by the planning board and historic business district commission.
For the past year, a private ad hoc committee has been working with town staff on landscaping to accompany the Route 28 roadway construction project, but Selectman Cory Metters said he wanted to ensure that the public has a say in the appropriateness, scale and cost of the design.
“I think we need to understand how those funds are being used and what maintenance is associated with it,” he said at last Tuesday's board meeting, “so that the end product is on a level that's acceptable to the townspeople.” There was concern, when the ad hoc group made a presentation in June, that it did not include wide enough representation from the community.
The state project, funded mostly through federal highway funds, is slated for construction in fiscal year 2018. Plans call for elimination of the center turning lane between Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road and installation of roundabouts at both intersections. The 100 percent design plans for the work were posted on the project's website, www.wcroadwaydesign.info/documents.html, last week.
Originally scheduled for this fall, the project was postponed due to delays in the process of obtaining easements and rights-of-way over several properties. DPW Director Tom Temple said the delays were caused by a staff shortage of state and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. At a recent Cape Cod Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting, he added, MassHighway representatives said additional staff has been hired to help clear the right-of-way backlog.
“Every community was having the same problems as the town of Chatham,” Temple said.
The project remains controversial, with many West Chatham residents and business owners opposed to changes along the stretch of Main Street. A majority of selectmen, as well as some business owners and residents, favor the changes as a way to improve safety along the roadway.
The project's cost, initially pegged at around $1.5 million, has ballooned to more than $4 million, and the “gigantic increase is for a beautification project, and nothing more,” said David Burns, president of the West Chatham Association, which opposes the project as unnecessary. Longtime opponent Dan Meservey, whose family runs a gas station at Main Street and George Ryder Road, said even though this was one of the busiest summers in years, there were no problems along that stretch of Route 28.
“It's not about traffic, it's about property values,” he said. “It's about pretty. It's about nice. It's not about safety.”
Chairman of Selectmen Jeff Dykens, whose wife owns a gallery along the project area, disagreed, saying crosswalks are ineffective and people on bicycles are at risk.
“I watch it, I see it, I'm telling you. As disruptive as it may be for folks, this is a safety issue on that roadway,” he said.
He said soliciting wider input “to get the right landscaping there, the right lighting, is appropriate.”
Selectman Seth Taylor opposed additional landscaping, noting the project's escalating costs. Landscaping above what's in the project budget would require town expenditures, including maintenance costs, he said.
“I really just don't see the town dipping into additional funding,” Taylor said.
Officials have an obligation to make sure landscaping maintenance will be “doable,” Metters said. “I think we need to understand how those funds are being used and what maintenance is associated with it, so that the end product is on a level that's acceptable to the town,” he said.
According to MassDOT Supervising Project Manager Thomas Currier, the estimate total construction cost is now $4,229,293. Items that are the responsibility of the town total an estimated $111,600. The figures don't include the cost of right-of-way and easement takings. Currier said in an email that bids for the project are scheduled to be advertised Nov. 11, 2017.
Taylor warned that the increasing price tag could doom the project.
“We cannot assume that this project is going to go through,” he said. “We just can't be sure of it.” Temple said if funding is not available for the current time frame, the project would await future funding rounds.
“I don't see the state ending the project,” he said.
The duration of the project is also coming under scrutiny. Originally slated to take place over two seasons, the timeframe may be extended. Selectman Amanda Love said she was concerned with the impact to the businesses along the strip, many of which suffered during sewer line installation several years ago.
“They were hammered when we had the sewer project,” she said. If the project is stretched from two to four seasons, “it's a massive impact on that area. We need to know exactly how long this is going to take.”
Temple said the work is more straightforward than the sewer project. The plans call for maintaining access to the businesses in the area throughout the work.
Selectmen voted 4-1, with Taylor dissenting, to ask the planning board and historic business district commission to hold a joint public meeting to solicit input on the landscaping for the project and report back to the board. As of Tuesday, a date for the joint session had not yet been set.
Rick Leavitt, who chairs the ad hoc committee, said the group welcomes the opportunity for greater involvement. In June, the group submitted the first of what it said would be three reports on suggested landscape improvements along the West Chatham corridor. No cost estimates were included in the report.
“We look forward to having more suggestions,” he said.
Because Dykens' wife owns a business in the project area, Taylor asked that town counsel be asked for an opinion on whether the chairman had a conflict of interest.
“We are talking about money now, we are talking about expending town resources,” Taylor said.
Dykens said he agreed an inquiry was appropriate, but added, “I don't think it should stem the debate this evening.”