CHATHAM — When it comes to the plan to widen Route 28 at the intersection of Crowell, Depot and Queen Anne roads, selectmen are tapping the brakes.
On Monday, engineer Keri Pyke of Howard/Stein-Hudson showed selectmen a new design that includes a modern traffic signal coupled with turning lanes and bike lanes on Route 28 west of the crossroads, but with less road widening on the east side of the intersection between the Unitarian Church and the post office. Some citizens, including former Selectman Amanda Love, warned that widening that portion of Route 28 would cause many mature trees to be lost and would require takings of private property on the north side of the road.
Pyke said she has begun the process of inquiring with MassHighway to see if they would be willing to waive highway design standards by shortening the turning lane and eliminating the five-foot bike lanes on the east side of the intersection. Selectmen said they like the changes, and said they’d like a similar narrowing of the roadway on the west side of the intersection opposite the old Cumberland Farms.
“I would really like to scale back the impact of this project,” Selectmen Chairman Cory Metters said. Doing so would “keep it within the character of that area,” he added.
“While there are a few improvements, we’re still dealing with a design that is out of character with Chatham,” resident Gloria Freeman said. She called the design “overblown,” and said it would harm Chatham’s quaint aesthetic “that has made us so popular as a small seaside resort town.”
Resident Rick Leavitt praised the design team for narrowing the roadway on the east side, but noted that the plan for the west side remains very wide, using the full 60-foot right of way. The result, he said, would be a wide swath of pavement that would cause cars to speed up.
“That’s bringing East Harwich to downtown Chatham. You don’t want to do that,” he said. Leavitt proposed eliminating the two five-foot bike lanes on Route 28, which only lead several hundred feet to the west anyhow. The 10 feet could instead be used to plant new trees “to create an entrance” to the downtown area, he said. While he likes bicycle paths, Leavitt said the road would be made safer for cyclists by narrowing it and slowing down traffic.
Bikeways committee Chairman John O’Toole said he favors the proposed on-road bike route on Crowell Road and Queen Anne Road, but doesn’t see much value in a short section of bike lanes on Route 28 which don’t connect to anything.
Selectmen asked Pyke whether MassHighway would likely issue waivers for highway design standards on Route 28 west of the intersection.
“We had more compelling arguments on the east side, with the trees and the slope aspects,” she said. While state officials might not give a definitive answer until a formal waiver request is made, “we can ask,” Pyke said.
In the regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) schedule, the expected $2,784,000 Five Corners project was scheduled for fiscal 2021, but changes in other projects and the availability of funds are expected to push the project to 2022.
Board member Dean Nicastro said while he would prefer that the project not be delayed, if it must take place a year later, it might lessen conflicts with other construction projects in town, like the West Chatham project and anticipated sewer work on Route 137.
Members of the Cape Cod Metropolitan Planning Organization, which manages the TIP, have expressed some frustration with Chatham’s on-again, off-again support of the West Chatham Route 28 project. The chairman of that group, Stephen Woelfel, indicated that to move ahead with the Five Corners project, the MPO would need to be certain that the town still favors the project. Terry Whalen, Chatham’s principal projects and operations administrator, suggested that once selectmen agree on a concept for the intersection, the board should vote to endorse it and then have a member of the board present that vote to the MPO in person, “to show that the town is in full support of the project.”
Resident Elaine Gibbs urged selectmen to assert more leadership on the intersection project, and said the town needs to press its consultants and MassHighway for more answers. Whalen said the town has excellent communication with Pyke and is working appropriately with the state.
“We’re not calling every single day for an answer, but we’re staying on top of it as best we can,” he said.
Selectmen voted unanimously to have staff approach MassHighway about the feasibility of waivers for the west side of Route 28, eliminating both bike lanes and left turn lanes on both sides of the intersection.
“We can only ask,” Nicastro said. The board also unanimously voted to send a letter to Woelfel reaffirming support for the project and asking for it to be kept in the list of projects for 2021.
The MPO is considering several other changes to the TIP that would affect Lower Cape projects. A $6.8 million reconstruction of Route 28 in Dennisport and West Harwich was moved from fiscal 2022 to 2023. That work would involve the reconstruction of the intersection at Upper County Road and Division Street, and repaving east to the Herring River bridge.
Also in the TIP is a $2.4 million proposal to build a roundabout at Route 28 at the intersection of Route 39 in South Orleans. That project was moved a year earlier in the schedule, from 2022 to 2021.