Lost Opportunity

New lighting recently went up along the revamped West Chatham corridor. Final paving of the redesigned section of Route 28 is expected to happen the week of May 17, and the entire project could be completed in June. TIM WOOD PHOTO

As it nears completion, opinion remains divided over the West Chatham Roadway Project. The changes to the 1,700-foot-long corridor between Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road, bookended now with roundabouts, are significant. The central turning lane, a feature for more than half a century, is gone, the roadway narrowed to two lanes and the sidewalks on the south side and multi-use path on the north side wider, which helps give the area a more open appearance. Curbing, street lights and landscaping complete the picture.

The project has attracted controversy since its inception, and its completion continues to polarize. Many feel that the narrowed roadway and entrances to businesses create a hazard, that the roundabouts will confuse drivers and cause traffic snarls this summer. Others see the opportunity to make the West Chatham business district a true village center, with slower traffic, safe sidewalks and crosswalks, and a more attractive appearance that will convince visitors to stop, park and stroll. Time will tell whether the two perspectives reconcile.

One thing we can all agree on right now: They should have buried the damn wires.

The view of the West Chatham corridor – see our front page photo – and the elegant lamp posts (though a bit taller than necessary) is dominated, overpowered, ruined – choose your own term – by the utility wires criss-crossing the roadway and the ugly poles that lean at odd angles. At some point during the long run-up to the project, there was discussion about placing the wires underground, but it was rejected as too expensive. And judging from the delays and difficulty in getting utility companies to relocate the poles as part of the project, it would likely have meant the work would have taken longer. And the town would have likely had to foot the bill which, based on other estimates utility companies have given for burying wires, would likely have been somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. That's a one-time addition of $60 to $120 on the tax rate. Businesses may have also been hit with paying for new utility drops. Worth it? Look and decide for yourself.

We've been critical of this sort of shortsighted approach to overhead utility wires in the past. It makes no sense to us not to take advantage of opportunities like this, which will not only improve aesthetics – which is good for business – but also preclude future costs of repairs to storm-damaged wires. The select board ignored the will of the town in pushing ahead with the West Chatham Roadway Project; they should have had the guts to mandate that the wires be buried.