Published in the April 30, 2019 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The town will go forward with the next phase of the design for infrastructure improvements along the downtown Main Street corridor and related areas after Town Meeting last night approved Article 5 on the warrant, which appropriated $390,000 for Phase 2 of the design.
Once the design is 25 percent complete, the town can apply for up to $16 million in federal funding through the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
After Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio made the motion under Article 5, he introduced Patricia Domigan and Geoffrey Morrison-Logan from VHB. The transportation engineering firm has been conducting Phase 1 of the design process using $331,500 appropriated by Town Meeting last year.
Among other work, Phase 1 has included traffic data collection, crash data collection, a road safety audit, traffic analysis, parking evaluation, site walks and observations, corridor design alternatives, construction cost estimates, construction funding eligibility evaluation and public meetings.
Using a slide presentation, Domigan and Morrison-Logan reviewed the results of VHB’s analysis last night and presented some of the ideas that have come out of the study to date. They also discussed some of the ways that the final project could unfold.
Domigan explained that the proposed project would encompass the following areas: Main Street, from Franklin Street to Church Street; Albion Street, from Main street to Gould Street; Water Street, from Main Street to Shaw’s supermarket; Lake Avenue and Spaulding Street; Common Street, from Church Street to Main Street; and North Avenue, from Main Street to Broadway.
Domigan and Morrison-Logan said that the project aim was to improve transportation for everyone who travels to or through Wakefield center in cars, on foot, by bus or on bikes; and to create a multimodal, accessible, vibrant center with enhanced aesthetics and a unique identity for Wakefield’s downtown.
Morrison-Logan added that the project would create “a vibrant downtown and a sense of place,” through beautification, improved sidewalks and streetscape as well as landscape enhancements. He showed “before and after” slides of a similar project in St. Albans, Vermont.
Domigan and Logan discussed and showed renderings of designs that included bike paths on both sides of Main Street, as well as replacement of most of the current angle parking with parallel parking in the downtown area.
They acknowledged that the latter move would significantly reduce available parking, but they outlined several possible ways to make up the shortfall. Those include making Princess and Center streets one-way and allowing parking on both sides, reconfiguring the public/private parking areas behind the Co-operative Bank and alano, eliminating Smith Street and expanding the public parking lot between Water and Lincoln Streets, and making West Water Street one-way to allow parking on both sides of the street.
They also discussed ideas for increasing and improving parking along Lake Avenue, making Common Street one-way heading south and doing streetscape enhancements along Albion and Water streets.
The first member of the public to speak was Jack Palano of Turnbull Avenue, who owns the alano building and other downtown real estate. While he said there were elements of the project that he liked, he would be voting against it.
He maintained that retail customers like to park close to stores, and moving to parallel parking would greatly reduce the available customer parking on Main Street.
Palano also noted that the proposal talked about using and reconfiguring the parking lot that he owns behind the alano building.
“No one has discussed that with me,” he said.
Christine Defelice of Lawrence Street asked why there were so many one-way streets on the plan.
“People will be driving around in circles,” she said.
Defelice also questioned the elimination of Smith Street, noting that it currently alleviates traffic backing up on Water Street by providing another route to Main Street.
She also questioned what would happen if the design money was spent but the town didn’t get the construction money from the state.
Town Councilor Edward Dombroski, a strong advocate of the project, said that he knew of no instances where a community was not funded.
“The state has a strong history of funding these projects,” he said. “There’s no indication that funding will be an issue.”
Rada Frolischstein of Rochelle Drive and the owner of a downtown business said that the town could not afford to turn down $15 million. She likened the project to improvements that homeowners would make to their property.
Joy Gosselin of West Water Street said that she liked the overall project but had problems with some of the details. For example, she called making West Water Street one-way “a bad idea.”
Peter Tringali of Wicker Lane also questioned some of the details. He wondered about the need for two bike lanes on Main Street and asked if the study looked at the percentage on cyclists and pedestrians.
Domigan said that the study looked not just at current usage but at future projections.
Mike Festa of Spaulding Street said that he supported the project because it would result in a more vibrant downtown.
Chip Tarbell of Morrison Road reminded Town Meeting that they were not voting on a final design but on funding to continue creating the design.
Robert McLaughlin of Water Street asked about the possibility of the town purchasing the vacant Bank of America building and using that area to expand the Lincoln Street parking lot.
Dombroski said that as the town does this project, it will take care of a lot of expensive paving projects that the town would have to do anyway. That would in turn free up town resources for other projects.
When Town Moderator Bill Carroll called for a vote, Article 5 passed by a wide margin.