BARNSTABLE — Over the concerns raised by vocal critics, a key regional panel Monday approved a transportation plan that includes the West Chatham Route 28 Roadway Project.
The vote by the Cape Cod Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) essentially ensures funding for the roadway reconstruction, which includes the installation of roundabouts at Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road and elimination of the center turning lane between the two intersections.
Though critics describe the $4.24 million project as an expensive and unwanted beautification effort, the stated purpose of the reconstruction is to slow traffic through the area, to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and to ease summertime congestion at the two main intersections.
In a letter read by David Burns of the West Chatham Association, Selectman Amanda Love expressed her strong opposition to the project, saying construction will likely take longer than expected and the funds could be better used elsewhere to address real safety concerns.
“It's just plain wrong,” Love wrote.
Selectman Shareen Davis spoke in favor of the roadway project. “It's in keeping with our comprehensive plan,” she said. The process has been open and fair, Davis said. “I really strongly feel that we just need to move on with this.” Davis was elected to the board last week over incumbent Seth Taylor, who opposed the project.
Last month, with Selectman Jeffrey Dykens recused, the board deadlocked on a motion to support the project, and the motion failed to pass. The newly constituted board has not voted its opinion, and Chairman Cory Metters said such a vote is not needed, given Davis' comments at Monday's meeting.
“I think that clarified where the board stands,” Metters said.
Project proponent Rick Leavitt said the election of Davis to the board represents “a solid indicator of community support” for the roadway reconstruction. He said the project has broad support among town boards and committees. Leavitt has argued that narrowing the roadway and adding better sidewalks and a bike lane would help businesses in the area.
Critics of the roadway project said they don't have confidence in a recently released document by the project designers which indicated that, under an accelerated schedule, the road work could most likely be completed in two years, specifically in the spring and fall of 2019 and 2020. The document is the design consultant's estimate of how long the job would take, rather than an actual construction schedule. By state rules, work is suspended during during peak summer months and the winter, although the consultants call for extending the work period with waivers.
Resident Elaine Gibbs said the requisite utility work will add another half-year to the project, and any unanticipated problems would cause further delays. Gibbs predicted that the job might take four years to complete, and during that time local businesses would be left struggling with road construction delays.
Love and several critics of the project urged planners to postpone Monday's vote to approve the Transportation Improvement Plan, which contains funding for the West Chatham project in fiscal 2018. MPO Chairman Steve Woelfel said a postponement is not possible because all of the state MPOs will be voting their respective transportation plans this week. If his group fails to approve a transportation plan, “that holds up the rest of the commonwealth,” he said. It would be possible for the panel to simply leave out the Chatham project, but it likely would forfeit those federal highway dollars, he said.
MPO member Leo Cakounes, a county commissioner from Harwich, asked what would happen if the MPO approved the project but the town of Chatham rejected it. Chairman Woelfel said he wasn't sure, and he doesn't remember such a thing ever happening.
Cakounes offered a motion to approve the transportation plan, but called the West Chatham project “the elephant in the room.” He said he doesn't personally support the project, but as a member of a regional board, “I need to do what's right for this process.” The motion to approve the plan passed unanimously.
After the vote, Burns said he was disappointed by Cakounes' vote. He said it was possible that opponents would consider new steps, including legal action, to block the project. Burns criticized supporters of the roadway reconstruction for disseminating misinformation.
Metters said he is happy with the MPO's vote, and while he will not seek to have his board vote again to support the project, he will schedule a time to further discuss the proposed construction timeline. That discussion will need to wait until more detailed information is available, he said. Metters acknowledged the concerns raised by businesses, and said the town needs to do what it can to answer those concerns.
“I don't want to turn my back on them,” he said.