Selectmen Push Back On West Chatham Roadway Plan

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Traffic , Roads, highways and transportation

Traffic in West Chatham.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM Critics of the West Chatham Route 28 reconstruction plan say they believe the project will take much longer than advertised to complete, impacting local businesses and traffic through 2021 or later.

The board of selectmen is repeating its request to have MassDOT officials come to town to clarify the project time frame.

In May, responding to a request by project opponent David Burns, selectmen asked state officials to send a representative to explain the revised contract time determination, but MassDOT declined to do so. They declined a similar request in October, and on Oct. 10, selectmen responded by sending a formal written request to the state’s transportation secretary. Secretary Stephanie Pollack did not reply to the letter, but in late November, MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver sent a letter saying any meeting with the town would be premature. Gulliver noted that the contract time determination does not represent the actual construction schedule, which would come from the contractor hired to perform the work starting next year.

Last week, Burns said the need for a meeting is urgent; many citizens, he said, have opposed the project from the outset. In addition to the installation of roundabouts at Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road, the $4.24 million plan calls for the elimination of the current center turning lane and installation of sidewalks and a bicycle lane. Petitioners and area businesspeople oppose the project, and “through the years they’ve been ignored,” he said.

Project opponent Gloria Freeman said Gulliver’s later was filled with inaccuracies, and she said it appears the town is being misled about the real project duration.

“For six years we were told the project would take two seasons, three at the most,” Freeman said. After preliminary utility work starting next fall, construction was expected to take place during the spring and fall of 2019 and 2020. The contract time determination (CTD) released in May indicates that the job won’t be substantially complete until February 2021.

In his letter to the board, Gulliver said MassDOT will hold a public information meeting in Chatham once a contractor is hired and a construction schedule is approved.

“Until that time, it is premature to discuss the CTD, which does not represent the actual schedule of construction,” he wrote.

The meeting proposed by MassDOT is designed to inform the town of the project timeline, not to take more public comment and change that timeline, Freeman said.

“That’s why we need a meeting with adequate notice to businesses and residents to discuss MassDOT’s CTD and see whether they would look for modifications,” she said.

It was a previous board of selectmen, not the current members, who approved this project, Freeman said. When a majority of this board voted to continue with the project, “you were under the distinct impression that this was a two-to-three-season project. Now you know differently.”

Resident Elaine Gibbs, another critic of the project, said the longer-than-expected time frame came in May without explanation. “In the non-government world, I think we would cancel the contract under those circumstances,” she said. It is not too late to scale back the project or withdraw from it, Gibbs said.

Selectman Amanda Love said the town needs to reply to Gulliver’s letter, challenging MassDOT on the new CTD and their unwillingness to meet with town officials. Love said she can’t understand why the board recently pushed back on initial state designs for the Main Street-Crowell Road intersection but doesn’t seem as interested in the West Chatham roadway project.

“We came out with guns blaring when it came to Crowell Road,” she said. The West Chatham project “is going to be a major impact,” she said. The town needs to voice its concerns to MassDOT and let them know “that it’s not acceptable to be continuously turning us down,” Love said.

Board member Dean Nicastro said it may be possible to recruit help from lawmakers to secure a meeting with MassDOT, though even at a high level, state officials have indicated no willingness to do so.

“They don’t want to come,” he said.

Love said that, in recent visits to the board, State Rep. Sarah Peake and State Senator Julian Cyr indicated that MassDOT officials are eager to cooperate with the town.

“Do they want to work with us or not?” Love said.

Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said that she had already spoken to Peake and the representative had reached out to transportation officials and has offered to attend a meeting between MassDOT and the town.

On Tuesday, after The Chronicle’s press time, selectmen were expected to authorize a letter officially renewing their request for a meeting. Even if the CTD is not a firm project schedule, “elements of the document have caused concern, and a degree of confusion for town residents and area business owners,” the draft letter reads. Attached to the letter are comments made by Freeman and Gibbs.

“As you may know the town has a very engaged and informed citizenry,” the letter continues.

A timely meeting with state officials could help answer questions accurately and fully “so as to allay fears, negate any inaccurate information, and replace supposition with facts,” the letter reads.