State Rejects Harwich Sidewalk Grant

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Saquatucket Harbor

Proponents sought grant funding for a sidewalk linking Saquatucket Harbor and downtown Harwich Port.  FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — The sidewalk along Route 28 from Saquatucket Harbor to Harwich Port is considered the missing link in improved pedestrian safety and economic development along the expanded harbor waterfront. But officials a state Massworks Infrastructure Program grant that would have covered nearly 70 percent of the cost has been rejected.

The town was seeking a grant for $576,500 to be matched with $250,000 town meeting approved last May to construct the sidewalk. The project is estimated to cost $826,500.

“It is a surprise,” Town Administrator Christopher Clark said of the notice from the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

In a letter to the town, Secretary Jay Ash wrote that 107 applications requesting more than $207 million in funding were submitted to the most recent round of grant funding. “The Route 28 sidewalk construction project was not recommended for funding in this round,” he wrote.

“It's a state road, a state priority and the state has been informed about the hazards out there and we were doing them a favor by agreeing to pay for a part of this,” Clark said.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has been aware of the need for the sidewalk for four and a half years, Clark said. A letter sent by the MassHighways district five engineer stated the intent to upgrade the sidewalks during the next highway construction project along that stretch of Route 28.

There are poles along the edge of the road, and in some locations where there are traces of sidewalk, there are poles in the middle of the passageway, compelling people to walk in the street, Clark said. The opening of the new Outer Cape Health Services medical facilities across Route 28 from Saquatucket Harbor will generate additional foot traffic, he added.

“You'd think the state would do everything they can to alleviate this, giving people a safe route,” he said.

The town's grant application stated, “These grant funds will provide a complete pedestrian route from the center of Harwich Port to Saquatucket Harbor which are both significant economic generators in Harwich.” The project would require a boardwalk to span Cold Brook, just west of the Brax restaurant.

With more than $11 million in harbor improvements along with the new health center, the area has seen significant improvements, Clark said. Saquatucket improvements include a new American with Disability Act compliant dock system and expanded landside with more parking, ticket booths for the party boat operations, artisan shacks and a snack shack overlooking the marina. There will be a lot more to draw people to the harbor facilities come next spring with all these amenities, he said. Relocating the ticket booths for the party boats on the harbor side of the road is also a major safety improvement, Clark added.

“But the way people get to and from these facilities will be hampered by the state,” he said. “As a town we've tried to address this issue. It's a hazardous situation and the state should address it now.”

He praised commitments to the project by Cape and Islands Senator Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and State Representative Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, who he said recognize the crucial need.

The rejection letter from the commonwealth said the town can resubmit the application in the spring. It urged the town to review the program guidelines closely and reflect on ways to strengthen the proposal demonstrating shovel readiness as well as clear alignment with the commonwealth's sustainable development principles.

With the town's success with $2 million in grants from the Seaport Economic Council for waterside and landside projects at Saquatucket Harbor over the past couple of years, Clark said he has been talking with Harbormaster John Rendon about also seeking funding for the sidewalk through that grant program.