Town Balks At West Chatham Enhancements

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: West Chatham , Roads, highways and transportation

Road construction in West Chatham.  ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

WEST CHATHAM Facing sticker shock over what could be up to $1.15 million in additional expenses for enhanced lighting, landscaping and sidewalks, selectmen will not be asking town meeting voters to pay for enhancements to the West Chatham roadway reconstruction project. But they will be asking the state to consider meeting some of the costs.

The board included Article 60 on the May 13 warrant as a placeholder, with the goal of adding a specific financial appropriation once there were clear estimates on the cost of streetlights, larger trees and concrete or brick sidewalks for the sides of Route 28 between Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road. On the advice of an ad-hoc committee considered to recommend the enhancements, selectmen voted this week not to move ahead with the article.

“This is a lot of money,” board Chairman Dean Nicastro said. Responding to an inquiry from the town, MassDOT Supervising Project Manager Thomas Currier provided the town with rough estimates of the cost of the enhancements. Smaller street lights, which would replace the 27-foot tall poles currently in the contract, would cost an additional $500,000 to $750,000, but the exact amount would not be known until a detailed cost analysis is completed. That analysis could cost up to $100,000, Currier said.

Replacing the currently planned asphalt sidewalks with concrete ones, or concrete ones with brick edging, would cost up to an additional $295,032, he reported. The state flatly rejected two other requests, including one for sloped granite curbing for the sidewalks, and another for larger-caliper trees.

Under the existing contract, the state has already agreed to pay for basic sidewalks, limited landscaping and standard lighting; it modified some of those items to address some concerns already raised by town officials. The reconstruction and reconfiguration of the roadway itself is already underway.

The extra cost is only part of his reason for concern, Nicastro said.

“What really struck me was the prospect of a delay in the project if some or all of these ideas were to be incorporated,” he said. Currier warned that the town would be liable for additional costs related to those delays.

Selectman Peter Cocolis said the state has done the town a disservice by advancing a plan that does not include the enhancements. Those items are part of what will make West Chatham a true village center, and they are in keeping with the town’s long-range plan and MassDOT’s own guidelines, Cocolis said.

The ad-hoc group recommended seeking a high-level meeting with MassDOT officials in Boston, with help from State Rep. Sarah Peake, D–Provincetown, to discuss the town’s requests. Committee member Art Spruch, a professional engineer, said he believes the actual cost of the enhancements would be lower than state estimates. Spruch volunteered to attend any meeting in Boston as an opportunity for the town to ask for “reasonable things” to be included in the project. If MassDOT rejects the request, the town should tread carefully, he noted. Otherwise, the next time the town has a project on a state highway, “how are they going to treat us?” Spruch said.

Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said she communicated with Peake, who advised the board to send a letter with its requests, which would be more expedient than seeking a meeting. Peake and State Sen. Julian Cyr, D–Truro, offered to hand-deliver the letter to the “highest levels of MassHighway,” Goldsmith said. Still, “she can't make any promises about the outcome,” the town manager said.

Working group member Gloria Freeman said many of the renderings of the project offered by MassDOT and consultants Howard/Stein Hudson showed sloped curbing and “beautiful landscaping,” which are now not included in the project. “I can’t help but think of bait and switch,” Freeman said.

Rick Leavitt, another working group member, said it is up to the town to “respond as a community” to make sure the project is completed as it was first presented, “or just be steamrolled by a state agency.” Leavitt said the high cost estimates and concerns about project delays are being raised “as scare tactics.”

Nicastro said he favored bypassing Article 60 in favor of negotiating with state officials and then calling a special town meeting at a later date for a supplemental appropriation, if needed. Though Selectman Cory Metters said he preferred having some action on the matter at this annual town meeting, the majority of the board voted not to move Article 60.

The board also voted to authorize the town to send a letter seeking a meeting with top state transportation officials, and to form a negotiating team to include Cocolis, the chairman of selectmen, Spruch, Goldsmith and DPW Director Tom Temple.