Chairman Joe Markey began the Planning Board’s discussion of sidewalks at their November 9th meeting by saying that Hopkinton doesn’t have a sidewalk plan, but that now would be an opportune time for the Planning Board to begin work on documenting priorities and preparing a plan. Although not directly responsible for sidewalk maintenance, the board frequently encounters sidewalk issues when reviewing and approving site plans.
One of the goals set by the Planning Board in July was to work with the Department of Public Works (DPW) to develop a comprehensive sidewalk plan.
“What should be in a sidewalk plan?” asked Markey.
Answers from various board members addressed several areas of concern. John Coutinho mentioned the areas surrounding schools and retail areas, citing the lack of sidewalks on the plans for the new school at Fruit Street.
Ken Weismantel brought up the issue of scenic roads and the fact that public hearings are required to make changes on these roads.
Public opinion was also sought from residents in the audience. Peter LaGoy of the Downtown Revitalization Committee (DRC) talked about the different types of sidewalks; those in the downtown area with aesthetic requirements, day to day sidewalks and sidewalks in rural areas. He stressed the need for low cost and low maintenance solutions in any sidewalk plan that is developed. Sidewalks in the downtown area are being handled through a specific Downtown Initiative for which Town Meeting approved $400,000 in May for study and design of this area.
DPW Director Brendan O’Regan brought the board up to date on the current situation for sidewalks in Hopkinton, saying there is no current plan in place. He talked about the town’s recent investment in its Pavement Management Program for road maintenance and said we need a similar plan for sidewalks, but funding is an issue.
“There are really no funds for capital projects,” said O’Regan, “even for projects that are already on the list.”
According to O’Regan, a study was completed eight years ago that recommended $120,000 per year for sidewalk maintenance. Currently his department has about $2,000 available per year for sidewalk repairs. He also explained that Chapter 90 funds, currently used for roadwork, can be used for sidewalks as well, but it’s a tradeoff.
“If the money goes to sidewalks, it takes away from the roads,” said O’Regan.
Markey commented that it then becomes a matter of establishing priorities and balancing them. Mark Abate felt that developing standards for new subdivisions and new applications could be the area in which the Planning Board could be most effective and have the most impact.
As a next step, the board recommended further discussion with the Department of Public Works before any formal steps are taken to put a plan in place.