by Nan Shnitzler
On July 13, Selectmen voted to establish a Town Roads Strategic Planning Committee to draft recommendations for the redesign of Main Street (Route 117) pertaining to traffic calming, speed, paving, markings, sidewalks, ADA access, multi-modal use, and so on.
As drafted by Selectmen Chairman Tom Frain, the committee’s charge would be to “better manage and calm traffic and ensure that roads and streets are designed to be as hospitable as possible to human activity and interaction and to thwart the town’s separation because of traffic.”
The committee would deliver a budget recommendation to the Board of Selectmen by January 15, 2018 to allow the appropriation of funds necessary for the initial design and engineering phases of any projects, according to the charge.
Also per the charge, committee members should be familiar with road design, grant writing, road architecture, financing, engineering, construction and town planning. The public works director and police chief or their designees would sit on the committee ex officio. Further, the committee would have the authority to consider all prior reports and recommendations concerning Main Street and other town roads.
Frain said the point was to better manage traffic and preserve property values and make the town a calmer, better place, and, given the proximity to Interstate-495, to help residents on Main Street’s feeder roads. Everyone bears the burden of traffic volume in town, he added.
Brad Cote, who is chairman of the Advisory Committee but spoke as a resident, said that if the state hadn’t walked away from assuming control of Main Street, which he said Frain had a large part to do with, what was in the committee’s charge would have been taken care of. (Frain was part of a coalition, and a legal action, that contested the authority of the Board of Selectmen to turn the roadway over to the state.)
Frain said he disagreed with Cote’s contention. Cote went on to ask how this group would differ from the Route 117 Prioritization Committee that formed shortly after 2015 Town Meeting shouted down the Main Street transfer.
Frain replied that this committee would be free to review all reports unlike the prioritization committee, which was only authorized to review three. He said it would be “wide open” with respect to getting town buy-in, and it would be a “big long process” involving financing, grants and timelines.
“If we don’t get going in some comprehensive way, it’s never going to happen,” Frain said.
Selectman Stan Wysocki agreed with Cote about the money.
“The town will have to cough up what the state was willing to do,” Wysocki said. It will be up to voters to decide “if, when and where they want to spend the money,” he added.
Still, Wysocki said, the town does not have “free rein.” Route 117 is a state numbered road and most modifications will have to be approved by Mass. Department of Transportation and engineered to their standards, he said.
Cote’s concern was keeping an overactive affinity group from “rallying the troops and flooding town meeting” to get their agenda passed.
“My hope is it will be a clear partnership with the town versus we’re going to do our own thing, and this is what it’s going to be,” Cote said.
Ultimately, the Board of Selectmen decides, Town Administrator Don Lowe said.
Al Ferry of Pinewood Road was not so sure another committee so soon after the Route 117 Prioritization Committee (which delivered its report in January 2016) was likely to achieve anything different or better.
“Starting another committee is unlikely to find different trouble spots. Everyone who lives here knows them,” Ferry said. “To identify the same problems before doing any work doesn’t seem like a step forward.”
Selectman Jonathan Keep said the new committee’s result would be a corridor-wide study that everyone could comment on, which would lead to votes on funding for engineering, which would lead to MassDOT grants from its Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
“We need a master plan going forward,” Keep said.
Economic Development Committee member Chris Lineberry said Main Street traffic was a “roadblock” to economic development, and he volunteered to be on the committee to be the voice of business in town.
Lowe agreed. He said it was important for business to know “this is on our radar screen.”
Martha Remington of Main Street asked why the Public Ways and Safety Committee couldn’t take this on. Frain said he reached out to Public Ways Chairman Mary Ciummo who had no objections.