Officials Quizzed About West Chatham Roadway Project

By: Alan Pollock

Vehicles navigate the new roundabout at Barn Hill Road. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM A panel of engineers and project leaders working on the West Chatham Route 28 roadway redesign project took questions from the select board and the public last week. While the project is not yet complete, it is likely too late for any significant design changes, they said.

A number of people spoke at last week’s meeting to express support for the new design, which slows traffic using roundabouts at George Ryder Road and Barn Hill Road, coupled with a reduction in traffic lanes from three to two between the traffic circles. But the project has been subject to criticism by those who say it will disrupt the flow of traffic through the village and into and out of local businesses. More recently, critics have raised concerns about the new curb cuts that provide access to driveways and side streets.

Selectmen compiled a dozen questions raised by board members and citizens, posing them to the project team last Tuesday. MassDOT District Construction Engineer Gerald Bernard said engineers carefully planned each curb cut to ensure easy access for regularly sized vehicles, and each one is configured to allow vehicles to enter and leave at the same time. But responding to public concerns, some of those entryways were widened last month, he said.

Onsite engineer Michael King told the meeting that the curb cut on Barn Hill Road for the Shop Ahoy Plaza was widened to 43.5 feet instead of 30, “based on input from constituents,” and the entrance to Ocean State Job Lot off Main Street was widened to 38.5 feet from 30 feet. The post office driveway across the street was widened to nearly 37 feet from the previous 29.

Select board member Cory Metters said he has particular concerns about that driveway entrance.

“I see the wide turns. I have some concerns with the design,” he said. Vehicles entering the drive need to turn sharply to avoid veering into the oncoming lane, he noted. Metters also questioned the design of the George Ryder roundabout, its capacity to handle oversize vehicles, and the general redesign of the roadway.

“Cory, there’s nothing wrong with the design,” Project Manager Tom Currier said. The road layout was designed over the course of several years, and “the town was very thorough in their questioning of the design,” he said. The road layout and the roundabouts in particular were very thoughtfully designed, vetted and peer reviewed, Currier said. With construction more than halfway complete, “it’s well past the time to reevaluate it,” he said.

Board member Dean Nicastro asked whether it might be possible to make the post office driveway as wide as possible. Bernard said the project team would entertain official requests to widen that curb cut.

“I’m not going to promise you anything is going to change,” he said, but those requests will be fully considered. With regard to the traffic circles, Bernard said it will take time for motorists to become accustomed to the new layout.

“There is a learning curve with a roundabout,” Bernard said. MassDOT often hears resistance to roundabout proposals, but when the work is complete and the roads are fully striped and equipped with signs, the complaints cease, he said. “They work fantastic.”

Several people expressed concerns about the paved aprons around the center of the roundabouts and the height of granite curbs. Bernard said the road has yet to receive its final course of pavement, which will lessen the apparent height of those structures.

“We’re not done,” he said. “You’re looking at a project in process.” If the roads appear too narrow now, it might be the result of the traffic barrels that now mark exposed curbs and other structures that might harm vehicle tires, Bernard said. Once the project is complete and the barrels are removed, navigating the area will be easier, he said.

Construction will resume in earnest in the warm weather and will continue through most of 2021, with the typical work suspension during the summer months. The project is expected to be complete by the start of 2022.