CHATHAM – Completion of the West Chatham Roadway Project may be less than two months away.
Officials anticipate final paving of the 1,700-foot Route 28 corridor between Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road will begin the week of May 17, if the weather cooperates, and final traffic markings, landscaping and cleanup could be done by the middle of June.
Construction on the $4 million project, in the planning stages for more than a decade, began in 2018 and is slightly ahead of schedule, said Public Works Director Tom Temple. “We are getting close,” he said. After the paving, most of the work remaining involves cleaning up the work site and other minor items; completing work by next month will preclude crews having to return in the fall, he said.
Street lights, stone walls, fences, landscaping and wheelchair ramps went in over the past few weeks. Eleven trees, rather than eight originally planned, will be planted along the north side of the road, Temple said. Adjustments have been made to entrances to businesses, which had drawn initial criticism for being too narrow. The post office entrance, for instance was widened by three feet on both sides.
“It looks like they were responsive to some of our areas of concern,” he said of the state department of transportation, which is overseeing the project on the state highway. Federal highway funds are covering construction costs; the town funded engineering and design work.
Making the corridor safer by eliminating the central turning lane was the original motivation for the project, which was controversial from its inception, chiefly for the two roundabouts bookending either end of the work area. Many owners of businesses in the commercial district initially opposed the project, as did many residents. The select board maintained its support for the work, however, despite an advisory town meeting vote against it and petitions in opposition that garnered hundreds of signatures. Many worried that the two roundabouts would snarl traffic rather than slow vehicles down as envisioned.
Some of those who were initially skeptical are now optimistic that the wider sidewalks, landscaping and more visible crosswalks could turn what was once a drive-through area into a vibrant pedestrian village.
“Before it was kind of a drive-through village,” said Doug Meservey. His family owns three businesses in the corridor, two of which they've started in the past few years. One is a new ice cream shop in the Shop Ahoy Plaza, which has filled out with new businesses. The addition of a senior center in the middle of the corridor, if approved by town meeting in June, will be another welcome addition. “We're optimistic that we can make this into a little walking village,” he said.
“The safety aspect is probably the biggest thing I've noticed,” said his sister, Lisa Fortin. “We've needed that for a while.”
Meservey said the contractor, Lawrence Lynch, has been responsive in making adjustments to entrances for the family's Shell Station. Both said they'd like to see some improvements made to the town park across from the Shop Ahoy Plaza, as well as a better connection to the bike trail on George Ryder Road.
“I think we're all just kind of waiting to live the dream about what this project purports to be,” Meservey said.
“It looks nice. It's coming together,” said Jay Case, owner of Larry's PX in the Shop Ahoy Plaza. “It makes this end of town look nice.”
All of the business owners said they were looking forward to a busy summer, based on predictions of heavy regional travel as the pandemic eases, but were guarded about traffic, especially given the unfamiliar roundabouts. Case said he was worried that it was “going to be a nightmare.”
“I just can't imagine a rainy day in July or August,” he said. Drivers are having to get used to new ways of accessing some of the businesses – gone is one of the Shop Ahoy Plaza's two entrances on Route 28, replaced by a one-way entrance and an exit on Barn Hill Road. “That could cause a big backup in the parking lot,” Case said.
Lawrence Lynch's implementation of the project was “quite extraordinary,” David Burns, president of the West Chatham Association, said in an email, but “the design is much worse than we ever imagined. So many are finding it a nightmare to navigate.” He said he is “dreading the summer traffic.”
“It has been nearly a 10-year struggle with MassDOT and town officials being less than honest in the planning and design,” Burns wrote. “What is left: a loss of character, its sharp cold granite with its industrial starkness. West Chatham deserves better.”
Resident Elaine Gibbs had similar objections at last week's select board meeting, saying the entrance to George Ryder Road South was difficult to navigate and dangerous. Stone walls are an obstacle and granite curbs are causing blown tires. She was also critical of the street lights being on the north side only, except at the roundabouts, rather than staggered on both sides.
Temple said that would have been more expensive. If the lighting proves too intense, it was wired so that half can be switched off.
Gibbs was also concerned that should a light pole be hit and fall, it could take down overhead utility wires.
“There are so many things that people have to focus on now driving down there, in addition to everything else and the granite curbs we now have all these lights that are going to be an incredible distraction for drivers,” she said.