Published in the November 6, 2018 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD – Although it spurred much more discussion than any other article at last night’s opening Town Meeting session, in the end Article 7 passed by a wide margin, with just a handful of voters opposed.
Presented by DPW Director Rick Stinson, Article 7 sought $331,500 for Phase 1 of a two-phase, $1 million design process that is expected to result in a total of $11 million worth of upgrades and improvements in the downtown corridor. It is anticipated that the $10 million construction portion of this project would be funded through the state’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), Stinson said.
He explained that the goal of the project is to make infrastructure improvements to the downtown right-of-way corridor, which includes: Main Street from Church Street to Nahant Street, Common Street from Church Street to Main Street, Albion Street from Main Street to Tuttle Street, Water Street from Main Street to Vernon Street and related areas.
Those improvements would address pedestrian access, walkability, bicycle access and circulation, parking, traffic flow, traffic control and signals, streetscape, safety, crosswalk passage, lighting and improvements necessary to comply with regulations that impact this project.
The first phase of the design will develop the goals and concepts for the downtown corridor, Stinson said. Some of the components of Phase 1 include: traffic data collection, survey, road safety audit, analysis, public outreach, stakeholder meetings, site walk, planning, concept development and partial design, renderings and 3D simulation video, mobility analysis, streetscape design and refreshing and related items for the Downtown Corridor right-of-way.
Stinson introduced Patricia Domigan, director of Municipal Services at engineering firm VHB. The town has used VHB for some 25 years for consulting services on traffic and related issues. Domigan said that Phase 1 will include a good deal of outreach and public involvement using social media, walking audits, the town website, newsletters, workshops and displays at public events such as farmers markets.
Bob McLaughlin of 376 Water St. said the town has no control over downtown landlords and how they care for their buildings. He suggested that those things have much more impact on the viability of the downtown than the proposed project would. He said that he would much rather take the $1 million and buy a piece of property to build a downtown parking lot.
Nicholas Major of 11 Rosemary Ave. wanted to know how long the downtown would be blocked during the project. Stinson indicated that such considerations were related to actual construction, which would be well beyond the design phase, and are unknown at this point.
Sarah McCauley, who chairs the Commission on Disability Issues, asked how much accessibility concerns would be considered. Stinson and Domigan assured her that they would be a major component of the project and that all regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act would have to be followed.
Town Councilor Paul DiNocco called the project “a step toward the future,” adding that it goes beyond the town’s Master Plan to actual design and implementation.
Jennifer Kelley of 25 Sylvan Ave. asked a question related to bike paths. Domigan said safety features and amenities for cyclists would be incorporated into the design. She added that the downtown is currently very “vehicular-centric” and the project would seek to re-introduce other modes of transportation.
Bronwyn Della-Volpe said that hearing about the project felt like Groundhog Day. She noted that there have been many studies in the past that the town has been asked to fund, but very little was ever done with those studies.
“How can you convince us that anything will be different this time,” she asked.
Stinson pointed out that none of the previous studies were design studies. “Those studies never got to this step,” he said. “This is much more advanced.”
In response to comments that the project would not address neglected or vacant private properties along Main Street, Town Councilor Edward Dombroski said that the project would send a message to landlords and the business community that the town is committed to investing in the downtown.
Charles McCauley of Lawrence Street questioned the $10 million figure given for the construction portion of the project, asking how construction costs could be known before the engineering and design study has even begun.
Stinson used the analogy of cost-per-square-foot used when constructing a house. He said that a similar method is used to estimate certain types of construction projects. Domigan also acknowledged that $10 million was an approximate number.
The $331,500 approved under Article 7 to fund Phase 1 of the design/engineering will come from the town’s Free Cash account.
A total of 178 voters attended last night’s opening session, which adjourned just after 10 p.m. Town Meeting will reconvene at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Galvin Middle School’s Veterans Memorial Auditorium.