HARWICH — A citizen initiative is underway to accomplish what the town has not yet to be able to do: get the state to construct a sidewalk along Route 28 from Saquatucket Harbor to Harwich Port.
And it's being led by a 10-year-old boy.
“Dear Mr. Baker: I am a child who lives in Harwich Port on Cape Cod. I live so close to the center of town and my grandparents and cousins, but I cannot walk there! The reason is that along Route 28 there is no sidewalk. Cars go very fast there and you are only about a foot from the road. It is very scary and dangerous to kids like me and adults too,” Pete Lipscomb, who lives on Harbor Road, wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker a couple of weeks ago.
Lipscomb, who has had a lemonade stand on his street this summer, enclosed $50 of the proceeds to the governor to start a sidewalk fund, citing the danger to pedestrians along that stretch of Route 28. He told the governor that a sidewalk should be constructed from Neel Road to Harwich Port. His grandparents and cousins live on Neel Road and he would like to visit more often, but he can’t walk along Route 28 to get there, he wrote.
It's also impossible to enjoy the upgrades to Saquatucket Harbor, for which the town received $2 million in state Seaport Economic Council grants to assist with the harbor improvements, he said.
“The issue we have with the Saquatucket Harbor renovation, there is a restaurant there, but no way to walk there, or anywhere,” Lipscomb told The Chronicle. “It makes me nervous. There is no way to walk to Schoolhouse Ice Cream, Dockside restaurant or to Harwich Port. One part near where I live, you’re a foot from cars passing on the road.”
Harwich town officials have been pushing for the project with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for five years. With the completion of the Saquatucket Harbor renovations providing more economic opportunity and public parking, the need to connect the harbor facilities with the commercial village is becoming essential, they say.
The town received a letter from the MassDOT district five engineer stating sidewalks will be upgraded during the next highway construction project along that stretch of Route 28. The town appropriated $250,000 in the 2018 annual town meeting to assist in funding sidewalks, but Route 28 is a state highway and such a project would have to have state approval and MassDOT sidewalk design compliance. That would include a sidewalk bridge over Cold Brook and was estimated to cost $826,500.
The town filed a grant application with the state Massworks Infrastructure Program for $576,500, 70 percent of the estimated cost in 2018 to improve pedestrian safety and expanded economic development along the renovated waterfront. But the application was rejected.
Town officials are continuing to push for the sidewalk and are now receiving citizen support, including help from a 10-year-old summer resident.
Lauren Lipscomb, Pete’s mother, said she would like to give her son a little more independence, because Harwich Port has become such an active place, but walking conditions are dangerous and need to be addressed.
“I’d like to be able to bike to the center of town or to tennis lessons, but cars are passing a foot away,” Pete Lipscomb said. “I don’t know how it can hurt in any way to build a sidewalk there.”
“I’m very proud of him, he’s passionate about it,” Lauren Lipscomb said.
The youngster said he has received a letter and signed photograph from Gov. Baker, who returned the $50.
“Civically engaged citizens are the foundation of our democracy and are essential for the continued health and well-being of our Commonwealth,” read the letter from a constituent services aide for Gov. Baker. “The Baker-Polito Administration values your input and we are grateful to have your voice as part of the discussion.”
Lipscomb, a summer resident, said he has sent the governor a second letter thanking him for his response, recommending the governor set up a fund for donations for the work and suggesting the sidewalk could be built in the fall and winter when there are fewer people around.
“It would be a smart idea and help us here in Harwich,” Lipscomb wrote in his second letter.
“I’m going to continue to pursue this because it feels very unsafe there,” he said.
That is also a sentiment expressed by Susan Tomich, a resident of Saquatucket Point, who has made the sidewalk her mission. Tomich said earlier this month she was driving along that section of Route 28 and observed a woman with a stroller with two kids in it. A huge truck came over the hill and swerved. Tomich stopped, providing the room for the truck to squeeze past.
“I’ve walked to town, but I don’t do it any more,” Tomich said.
Tomich said she has written letters to Gov. Baker and Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack about the need for the sidewalk. She has also been communicating with the staffs of Senator Julian Cyr and State Representative Sarah Peake. She has written a letter to Timothy J. Kochan, MassDOT District 5 transportation planner about the conditions as well.
She said the Saquatucket Bluff Association and another neighborhood association in South Harwich support the sidewalk. “It’s not just something that looks nice, it’s a safety issue,” Tomich said.
Town Administrator Christopher Clark said on Monday he hopes the state will provide some additional funds for MassDOT because it is their road. The previous application to the Massworks Infrastructure Program was an avenue State Rep. Peake had recommended, he added. When the town’s application was rejected last year, the state offered some suggestions and recommended the town apply again this year, which Clark said will happen.
Clark said he will talk with selectmen about increasing the town’s contribution to the project through the capital plan. He said it is a priority for public safety and economic development.
“But I don’t see why we have to pay everything for the state,” Clark said. “It’s their highway.”