HARWICH — The term “Complete Streets” brings up some uncomfortable memories for town officials who were involved in the planning process to improve road conditions along a section of Route 124 several years ago.
The project had been approved for construction under the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and the funding would have been provided by state and federal agencies. But one of the conditions, compliance with Complete Streets criteria, requiring sidewalks and bicycle lanes, drew major protests from residents. The project was eventually abandoned.
So when people in town hear the term “Complete Streets” they get a little nervous. But Town Engineer Griffin Ryder said the program has changed, and selectmen Monday night agreed to allow Ryder to move forward with establishing a Complete Streets program in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
He noted the benefits of accessing state and federal funding for roadway enhancement projects, pointing out the commonwealth put $50 million into the program and is scheduled in July to add another $50 million. He presented the MassDOT fact sheet on Complete Streets, which explains the program: “A Complete Street is one that provides safe and accessible options for all travel modes—people walking, people biking, people driving and people taking transit. Complete streets improvements may be large scale, such as a corridor-wide improvement, or small scale focused on one mode, such as adding a crosswalk or bus shelter.”
Ryder said in his previous job, working with VHB, Inc., a roadway design engineering firm, he spent five years trying to get municipalities involved in the program. Ryder said he understands the perception of Complete Streets here given the Route 124 project. But there have been changes, he added.
“The state has dialed it back and is not requiring everything on every road,” Ryder said.
The town has wanted to extend a sidewalk from Harwich Port to Saquatucket Harbor along Route 28 for some time, approving $250,000 to assist with the project. Ryder said he spoke about that plan with Dan Gates from Gov. Charlie Baker’s office when state officials were here for the Seaport Economic Council dedication of the Saquatucket Harbor improvement projects. The town had filed a grant application for funding under the Massworks Infrastructure Program seeking $576,500 to be matched with the town's $250,000 to build the sidewalk, but the grant was rejected.
Ryder got together with Gates and a few interested parties and viewed the conditions along Route 28 that demonstrate the need for a sidewalk leading to and from the village. Gates told Ryder the Complete Streets program was the more likely grant program to pursue.
With the less restrictive requirements of the program now, Ryder said instead of adding a bike lane along Route 28 an alternative route might be acceptable, such as placing the bike lane along Hoyt Road, which has much less vehicle traffic. Under the old program and the TIP requirements, there would not be enough space to place sidewalks and bike lanes along that stretch of Route 28, he said.
To access Complete Streets, Ryder said the town must complete a three-tier process which includes developing a policy, establishing a prioritization plan and then filing a construction application for funding. He said up to $38,000 could be available to assist in developing the prioritization plan and construction grants of up to $400,000 can be issued under the program.
Several communities on the Cape have and are pursuing the program. Sandwich has been approved. Mashpee, Brewster and Eastham are also moving forward.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine said officials have been talking for a long time about the sidewalk needs from Harwich Center to Harwich Port and to the harbor. He wanted to know if they have to look at the entire town. If so, he said it should be done in conjunction with the comprehensive plan now under review.
Ryder said he has been communicating with Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh about making sure the policies will work together. He said he will be working with the relevant town agencies to develop the plan, but added that he wanted to see if selectmen want to move forward with such a plan first.
Acting Town Administrator Joseph Powers praised Ryder’s efforts and enthusiasm.
“Is the objective to put sidewalks on every public way?” Selectman Donald Howell inquired.
“No. The idea is to build sidewalks where there is a need. Along heavily traveled roadways and in down town areas,” Ryder responded.
Noting the opposition to the Route 124 project, Howell emphasized the need for public participation in the policy and prioritization process. Ryder said a public hearing is required in the development process.
The consensus of the board of selectmen was for Ryder to move ahead with the initiative.