Rt. 28-137 Juncture Called 'Pedestrian Nightmare'
CHATHAM – When she works at the garden in front of the Chatham Chamber of Commerce headquarters at the intersection of Routes 28 and 137, Nancy Alger often sees pedestrians and bicyclists trying to cross the road, and it “scares the heck out of me,” she said.
“You have no idea how fast cars go by,” she told members of the South Chatham Village Association during the group's annual meeting Saturday.
It didn't take much convincing for the members of the association to unanimously endorse a petition seeking the board of selectmen's support for installation of crosswalks and signals at the intersection, one of the main corridors into town from Route 6.
“There's a feeling we've got to do something,” said SCVA board member John Sweeney, noting that the town's 2003 comprehensive plan specifically called out the lack of a crosswalks and the condition of sidewalks in South Chatham as needing attention to improve pedestrian safety. It's been 15 years and the situation remains the same, he said.
The town, however, is limited in what it can do to address the situation. Route 28 and its sidewalks are under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's Highway Division, said Department of Public Works Director Tom Temple. While the town can petition the state to make improvements, it can't take action unilaterally.
Noting that Harwich recently applied for a state grant to pay for sidewalk construction along Route 28 in Harwich Port, the petition asks selectmen to push for action to correct “a long standing problem of pedestrian safety that could, otherwise, result in serious injury and/or death.”
Concern over the lack of a crosswalk at the intersection stems from the fact that the sidewalk on the south side of Route 28 ends just after the chamber building and continues east across the street along the north side. This creates a “pedestrian nightmare,” the petition says, with no safe way for people to cross from one side of the highway to the other. The intersection is also a main access from South Chatham to the Old Colony Rail Trail, just up Route 137 from the intersection.
“Traffic at this intersection is heavy, making it almost impossible to cross safely,” the petition reads. “A crosswalk should be installed somewhere nearby with a blinking light to warn cars of pedestrians trying to cross.”
The intersection is very wide, Temple pointed out, and because of the way Route 28 curves to the east, a crosswalk may not be advisable where the sidewalks currently end just east of the intersection. It may need to be farther west where the road is narrower, which could require extension of the sidewalks on one side.
If authorized by the board of selectmen, the town could petition the state for a crosswalk, Temple said, but he warned that MassHighways doesn't always respond immediately. There's also the matter of funding, which could come from the town or the state, to pay both for engineering of the crosswalk and determination of the best location as well as actual construction. He wasn't sure if such a project would need to be part of the regional transportation improvement plan. It's not a quick process, he concluded.
In the past, Temple said he's asked that when the state does work on Route 28 it includes repairing sidewalks and making them accessible. In some cases that's happened – sidewalks were included in repaving of a section of Old Harbor Road from Barcliff Road to the rotary a few years ago – in others it hasn't.
A comprehensive report on the town's sidewalks and a plan for their improvement is “98 percent” complete, Temple added, although he said Monday has yet to see the final report. Consultants working on the report are scheduled to train town staff in the use of software that will help analyze and prioritize sidewalk projects. The South Chatham concerns should be part of a comprehensive town-wide sidewalk upgrade program, he said, but added he wasn't sure yet how state-controlled sidewalks along Route 28 will fit into such a plan.
The process needs to start with the SCVA and the board of selectmen, Temple said.
“Once I get a letter from them I can move forward knowing it's a serious thing they're concerned about,” he said.
South Chatham residents would also like to see a flashing warning signal installed at the bike crossing on Route 137, similar to those in place in Harwich and Orleans. That section of Route 137 is owned by the town, Temple said, so permission from the state would not be required to install a signal at the bike crossing. He said he supports that idea and is looking into pricing.
“It's definitely something we're entertaining,” he said.
SCVA board member Frank Messina acknowledged that making changes to the intersection will take time, but said the process should start now.
“There's a solution,” added association president Chad Yates. “It's just a matter of putting enough pressure on the right people.”