CHATHAM — Attempting to answer concerns that the project would cause prolonged disruption, MassDOT officials say the West Chatham Route 28 reconstruction project will be complete within two calendar years, even accounting for a work moratorium during the busiest summer months.
Following up on a March 22 meeting with town officials, MassDOT sent a letter to Selectmen Chairman Cory Metters last Thursday clarifying the project time frame. Bids will be advertised next month, and the contractor will be given a notice to proceed in October.
“MassDOT anticipates that if work is allowed in the month of June, the project will be completed within two calendar years (24 months) or two construction seasons (a construction season being 12 months),” the letter reads. That schedule includes a summer work moratorium from June 30 through Labor Day in both 2019 and 2020.
The controversial project involves the construction of small roundabouts at Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road, and the elimination of the current center turning lane on Route 28. There will be improved sidewalks and crosswalks and a travel lane for bikes.
At Monday’s board meeting, Metters said it was clear at the meeting in Boston that state officials are watching the selectmen’s meetings or reviewing the minutes and understand the concerns raised about the time schedule and the impacts on the West Chatham business community. “They are hearing what we are saying,” Metters said.
MassDOT agreed to add language to the contract that prohibits work on the south side of Route 28, where most businesses are located, during the month of June in 2019 and 2020. In the letter, MassDOT Director of Roadway Project Management Marie Joyce Rose acknowledged that traffic volumes are increasing notably in June.
“During the work day, there will be no detours, and it is anticipated that two-way traffic will be maintained except for the occasional short period of alternating one-way traffic,” she wrote. “There will be no restrictions to businesses for extended periods of time. Two-way traffic will be restored at the end of each work day.”
While the letter does not reference the relocation of utility poles that will take place before the road work begins, “I was led to believe that much of that utility work was going to be included in that 24-month window,” Metters said. Selectman Dean Nicastro, who also attended the meeting, said he had the same understanding.
Selectman Shareen Davis said the town should ask state highway officials to clarify that issue in writing.
Critics of the plan have argued that the utility work would cause the project to last longer than two years.
Rose wrote that MassDOT will try to conduct a public meeting in Chatham in November 2018. The session is planned to take place after a contractor is hired, so a more specific project timeline can be discussed.
Elaine Gibbs, a critic of the West Chatham roadway project, called it “stunning” that the utility work would be completed during the 24-month period, and urged the town to seek written verification.
“I don’t understand why they won’t come down and talk to us now,” she said. Gibbs questioned Rose’s assertion that there would be no “extended” access disruptions for businesses. “Are we talking hours, days or weeks?” she asked.
Resident Gloria Freeman echoed those concerns, and urged selectmen to vote to abandon the project. “This is not a state or MassDOT project. It is a Chatham project,” she said.
West Chatham resident David Whitcomb, a former selectman, said it is clear that some people are still attempting to stop the construction project, though he thinks the majority of people in town want it. Any construction project will cause some disruptions, he said. And it makes no sense to have a meeting before a contractor is hired, Whitcomb said, since only the contractor can answer certain questions about the work. Whitcomb said he supported the project when it first emerged more than 12 years ago.
“It’s time to get this thing going,” he said. Whitcomb said it is now time for the community to pledge to support businesses in West Chatham during the construction. “When it’s finally done, this project is going to be well worth it,” he said.
“Maybe we should start thinking about a business support action plan,” Davis said. The town actively supported businesses along Route 28 during the sewer installation through signs and newspaper advertisements.
Town officials planned to send a follow-up letter inquiring about the timing for the utility work, and said they would make MassDOT’s available to the public as soon as they receive it.