HARWICH — Close to 50 people tuned in remotely to the selectmen’s meeting Monday night to support the construction of a sidewalk from Harwich Port to Saquatucket Harbor. Public safety and economic benefits were cited as benefits, and there were also pleas to extend the sidewalks further east to Julien Road.
Selectmen conducted the session to determine support for a sidewalk along the six-tenths of a mile stretch of Route 28, where foot-traffic has carved a thin worn dirt path just off the edge of the pavement between the harbor and the village.
Since 2015, the town has been stressing the need for a sidewalk with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. DPW Director Lincoln Hooper said MassDOT sent a favorable letter at that time determining that the project was viable and a sidewalk would be built with the next roadway construction project the state planned in that area.
“Unfortunately, there are no construction projects on the radar,” Hooper said.
Town Meeting approved $250,000 for the sidewalk project in 2018. MassDOT did a survey of the area in 2018. There has been a large increase in activity in the area since the town spent $11 million in improvements for Saquatucket Harbor, with the commonwealth contributing $2 million in Seaport Economic Council funding.
Renewed interest in the project comes in response to MassDOT altering the more stringent requirements of the state’s Complete Streets Program, agreeing to waivers where sidewalks and bike lanes cannot be accommodated. The Cape Cod Commission last week submitted a project need form for the sidewalk to the MassDOT review committee for the sidewalk, which weighs whether a project is suitable for Transportation Improvement Program funding. If so, the town would be responsible for funding the design and state while federal TIP funds would cover the cost of construction.
Plans call for placing the sidewalk on the south side of Route 28, extending from Bank Street to Saquatucket Harbor, said Steve Rhoads of engineering consultant VHB, Inc. It would consist of a six-foot concrete sidewalk with granite curbs where necessary and drainage improvements. The estimated design cost was $225,000. Construction cost was put at $789,000. Rhoads said it takes about five years to move a project through the TIP program cycle.
Selectman Stephen Ford recommended communicating with Gov. Charles Baker and local legislators to see if the project could be moved up on the TIP, given the minimal costs and the safety concerns.
Pete Lipscomb, an 11-year-old summer resident from Harbor Road, sent Gov. Baker $50 he generated from his lemonade stand to help fund a sidewalk. Lipscomb on Monday night spoke about the letter he sent Gov. Baker and the governor's response that he would keep the project in mind.
“Nothing has happened since then,” Lipscomb said.
Lipscomb said he is an advocate for the sidewalk. He said he would like to be able to walk into town or to his grandparents and cousins homes, but his mother won’t let him because she “fears for my life. Any day a reckless driver or a big truck with a big boat on a trailer can come and hit me or my friends as we walk that two-foot path on the edge of the road.”
The sidewalk could help the environment by having people bike, run or walk the sidewalk, instead of having to drive a car, he said.
Susan Tomich, a Saquatucket Bluffs resident, said she was representing local neighborhood associations with 74 families in support of the sidewalk. Tomich has been an outspoken supporter of the sidewalk, getting Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito’s staff to examine the need when Polito was in town for the dedication of the Saquatucket Harbor improvements in 2019.
Tomich said she and her husband have stopped walking into Harwich Port because of the dangerous conditions. She told of driving that stretch and observing a woman walking on the dirt path with a double stroller when a truck swerved into Tomich’s lane to avoid hitting the woman. Tomich said she does not want to see this project driven by a tragic accident. A sidewalk would also have a positive economic impact on the area, she said.
Rob Hull lives on Julien Road and residents there have broad-based support for the sidewalk, he said. Safety is the biggest concern, and he recommended the sidewalk be extended to the top of Julien Road, allowing people safe access off Route 28 to walk to Red River Beach.
David Farer, a Neel Road resident and president of the South Harwich Shore Association, also requested the sidewalk be extended. He said there is a lot of pedestrian activity just east of Saquatucket Harbor, driven to some degree by the Schoolhouse Ice Cream business on the corner of Neel Road.
Rebecca Koeniger and Sheryl Stone also spoke in favor of the sidewalk to improve walking opportunities, safety conditions and quality of life issues that will enhance the town’s appeal. Several people praised the town’s commitment to improvements at Saquatucket Harbor and said the sidewalk would benefit economic growth at both ends.
Kristen Young lives along Route 28. With more people walking along the highway, she asked if there is any consideration for reducing the speed limit. Town Engineer Griffin Ryder cautioned that sometimes speed studies can result in higher speed limits. Any time MassDOT does a major change it would consider such a study, added Rhoads. Ryder said there have been speed concerns raised along other sections of Route 28 and a more comprehensive study might be a better approach. He also suggested the installation of speed mitigation measures be considered.
Steven Tupper, transportation program manager for the Cape Cod Commission, said curbs and the sidewalk could slow traffic. The commission is behind the project, he said, adding that he was pleased with the public comments at the meeting.
Selectman Ed McManus recommended to Rhoads that a bus turn out be included to provide a stop for the Outer Cape Health Services facilities across Route 28 from the harbor entrance.
Ryder said the sidewalk will be brought to the MassDOT review committee on Jan. 21 for evaluation as a TIP project.