CHATHAM – The popular Lighthouse Overlook looks a bit different these days, and the change also makes it a bit safer, according to officials.
Along the fence on the west side of the road, in front of the Coast Guard Station, there's a brand new sidewalk. There's also a new sidewalk along the southern end of the overlook, in front of the Chatham Beach and Tennis Club. Both conform with Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and feature ramps with “detectable warning panels” – those bright yellow metal plates with raised nubs that signal an accessible crosswalk. Crews were expected to paint a new crosswalk on the south side of the overlook area later this week, bookending with another crosswalk at the north side of the parking area near the Mack Memorial.
The recently completed work is part of a comprehensive sidewalk program that will eventually upgrade sidewalks in downtown and throughout the community.
“This is just some of the work that needs to be done,” Department of Public Works Director Tom Temple said. Along with lacking accessibility, the overlook sidewalk was in such bad shape that it could not be plowed in the winter, he said.
The town has hired the BETA Group, Inc., to do a sidewalk inventory and help develop a comprehensive sidewalk management plan. There are about 11 miles of sidewalks in town, and the program will break down each based on intersections, rate each section and provide repair and upgrade estimates.
The total cost of the work is yet to be determined. The DPW receives $100,000 in sidewalk maintenance funds annually through the five-year capital budget, and that money is being used to do immediate work such as the upgrade at the Lighthouse Overlook, Temple said.
Town officials and residents have long been critical of the condition of some of the sidewalks in town, particularly in the downtown area. There have been some upgrades in recent years – along lower Main Street and a few sections in the downtown business district – but many sidewalks are in poor condition, with uneven pavement and narrow widths that can be problematic during the busy summer months when pedestrians crowd the shopping district. Few comply with ADA requirements.
Temple said several areas are scheduled to be addressed as part of larger projects independent of the comprehensive sidewalk plan. For instance, when work is done this fall to improve the Eldredge Library's Main Street lawn area, it will include upgrading the sidewalks. Next winter new sewer lines will be installed between Cross Street and Chatham Bars Avenue, he said, and will include new sidewalks on both sides of Main Street.
New sidewalks will also be installed along Bridge Street in conjunction with the repair and replacement of failed water mains at the Mitchell River bridge approved at May's annual town meeting. That sidewalk will connect with an extension of the lower Main Street sidewalk past Silverleaf Avenue and around the corner to Bridge Street, Temple said.
Outside of downtown, another area where work is pending is on Old Queen Anne Road, from Main Street to Stepping Stones Road. A new sidewalk along that stretch was part of the sewer project, but has yet to be installed. Temple said the work won't be done until sewer connections to residences along the road are completed so that the sidewalk does not have to be torn up to accommodate the hookups.
All of the new sidewalks will meet accessibility criteria, he said.
“Every time we put a shovel in the ground we need to make it in compliance with ADA,” he said. The comprehensive sidewalk plan will identify other priority areas, such as walking routes to schools. He's also been in touch with officials at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation about repairing sidewalks along Route 28, and was told funding is available to address safety concerns. The department is in the process of developing a state-wide pedestrian plan, Temple said.
Some work may be done in the next few weeks, but most will wait until the summer crowds have left. “Then we'll hit it hard in the fall,” Temple said.
The evaluation segment of the BETA work should be completed within eight weeks, he said. He will update selectmen at that time. A subsequent transition plan will develop a schedule of improvements based on the evaluation, according to a presentation Temple made to selectmen in April, as well as identify potential funding sources, which could include federal funding through the Safe Routes to School program, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Complete Streets program, Chapter 90 state highway funds, and town funding.
Additional drainage work will be done in the next few weeks at the Lighthouse Overlook and at nearby Bearse's Lane, Temple said, and will continue in the fall.