Downtown Corridor Project Gets Another Review

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On Thursday morning, January 17, Town Manager Norman Khumalo, along with Town Engineer Dave Daltorio and Director of Land Use, Planning and Permitting Elaine Lazarus, presented the latest iteration of the downtown plan, recommend by the Downtown Initiative Steering Committee (DISC), to the public, in preparation for its submittal to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

Despite the early meeting time, the Selectmen’s Meeting Room was full, as residents once again provided their feedback on the proposed changes. Different this time, was that instead of only listening to residents’ input, Khumalo said it was also an opportunity for residents to listen and to see how his team had responded to the previous suggestions made since the plan was last shown to the public. The original goals of the plan, improving safety, managing the projected increase in traffic, improving pedestrian and bike travel, making the downtown more attractive and infrastructure improvements, remain the same.

Daltorio, the project manager for the Downtown Corridor Project, began by showing project plans and highlighting some of the recent changes, but the discussion quickly devolved into a back and forth question and answer period which made it hard to follow what exactly had been changed in response to previous community feedback.

Changes discussed included reducing the width of the road near Hayden Rowe Street and adding a blinking light, including an exclusive pedestrian signal at the intersection of Rt. 85 and 135, making Marathon Way one way going east and making the driveway between Town Hall and Bill’s Pizza a pedestrian only walkway.

Comments from the public ranged from impressed with the plan, to still dissatisfied and wanting more changes.

Finley Perry, Chairman of the Hopkinton 20/20 Initiative of the Chamber of Commerce, said that he was very impressed with the work done to date and thought that the 25% plan represented a very successful body of work.

Rob Phipps, of Phipps Insurance, said that he saw a fundamental problem that was not being addressed by all the minutia; the conflicting goals of slowing down traffic and attracting people to the downtown versus increasing safety and reducing traffic congestion.

“I would like to hear more, I would like to hear something, from the police department, the DPW, the fire department, those people that we have entrusted with handling the safety issues in town,” said Phipps. “With all due respect, I don’t need to hear from design people anymore.”

Selectman Brian Herr, who also attended the meeting, assured Phipps that he would ask the safety officials to weigh in on the plan, in writing.

Others were looking for clarification on the project timeline and what would be included in the final plan, a question answered by Herr who explained that the submission of the 25% design was only the starting point and that nothing was final as yet.

“The 25% submission starts the clock,” said Herr. “It gets us in line to talk about it further with the state, it gets us in line to talk about further in town, it allows us to make adjustments and a lot of adjustments can be made up to 100% drawings.”

Daltorio explained the timeline in more detail, saying that once submitted to MassDOT, the initial review of the 25% plan could take up to a year before the 75% and 100% plans are reached.

“From there, then you are in your funding waiting game,” said Daltorio, “which could take up to an additional 3 or 4 years. So we could be talking 4, 5 or 6 years out for construction.”

In response to an email sent after the meeting, Daltorio listed six changes incorporated into the 25% design that were made based on community feedback and which include the following:

1) Relocation of the Wood Street intersection is not part of the 25% design
2) Re-alignment of the 85/135 intersection is not part of the 25% design
3) On-street parking modifications (reduced space length from 22' to 20') to maintain maximum number of on-street spaces
4) Submitting 25% design as short-term plan as opposed to long-term plan to maintain maximum number of on-street parking spaces
5) Under-grounding of utilities was an original recommendation, but is not part of the 25% design
6) Changing raised curb island on Main Street at Hayden Rowe to at grade stamped concrete island instead of a raised island

However, some of the items removed from the 25% design are still under consideration separately. Two issues discussed at the meeting included the house at the intersection of West Main Street and Wood Street and the undergrounding of utilities. According to Herr, both items are still being looked at, and the property at 2 West Main Street is still a property of interest to the community to alleviate some of the congestion at that intersection and that the potential exists for an article at Town Meeting. With regard to the undergrounding of utilities, options are being looked at that would reduce the estimated cost and hopefully make the proposal more attractive at Town Meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Khumalo assured residents that all of their comments and feedback would be presented to the Board of Selectmen for review.

“We will make sure that every comment that we heard will be passed on to the selectmen,” said Khumalo. “I was not suggesting that we, as staff, are going to be ruling out anything from our discussions.

All comments and suggestions will be published on the project website on the town website. In addition, the date when the 25% will be presented to the Board of Selectmen has changed.

“To be certain all the suggestions are evaluated carefully by Town Staff and the BETA Engineering team, the presentation of the 25% design plan to the Board of Selectmen has been rescheduled from January 22, 2013 to February 5, 2013,” said Khumalo, in a press release after the meeting.

Michelle Murdock can be reached at [email protected] or at 508-435-7887.