The Mass. Ave. Corridor Project once again took center stage Tuesday night, as hundreds of residents packed an at times raucous Town Hall Auditorium to voice their support or opposition for the project’s current design.
By a rough count, about 50 residents, including Town Meeting members, spoke in favor of having the current design move forward to construction, while 15 spoke against during the more than three-hour hearing.
The main sticking point was the number of travel lanes. The current design proposes three lanes, two eastbound lanes toward Cambridge and one westbound lane toward Arlington Center, from Pond Lane to the Cambridge city line.
Supporters, many of whom were East Arlington parents of young children, said they’re OK moving forward with this, even though some preferred only having one lane each way.
“I’m disappointed that we’re not already starting construction in the spring,” resident Jennifer Griffith told the representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. “Please, please, please don’t let this get derailed.”
Those opposed to the current design said four lanes are needed to handle the traffic on Mass. Ave.
“The 98 percent (traveling on Mass. Ave. in motor vehicles) is worried sick about the possibility of a Mass. Ave. with only three travel lanes,” said Eric Berger, a Town Meeting member from Hamilton Road who has vocally opposed the current plan for years.
Stephen Harrington, a Town Meeting member from precinct 13, added that he fears Mass. Ave. would back up like Pleasant Street if the current design is implemented.
Town Meeting member Phil Goff, a Grafton Street resident and chairman of the East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition, a community group that supports the current design, said computer models have shown that the design would only delay a motor vehicle traveling west toward Arlington Center 26 seconds and that this only applies during the evening rush hour and was, in part, due to the proposed new traffic signal at Bates Road and Mass. Ave.
Berger, a member of the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee, which opposes the current design, and others who spoke against it said that they don’t believe the computer models, which were run by engineers from Burlington-based Fay, Spofford & Thorndike on behalf of the state.
In addition to the travel-lanes component, the project is intended to increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety by organizing the roadway with striping, including five-foot-wide bike lanes in each direction. It also is intended to beautify the area, with reconstructed sidewalks and bus stops, among other aesthetic changes.
Supporters, including Board of Selectmen chairman Kevin Greeley, said the project would make East Arlington more of a destination, which would in turn help the local businesses, particularly those in Capitol Square.
“It’s unique, it’s necessary and I personally feel it’s a very exciting project for business development, for beautification and to create a destination verses an area that we look to rush through going in or out of the town of Arlington,” said Greeley, who said he was speaking on behalf of the board, which unanimously supports the design.
Town Meeting member Maria Romano, who is running against Greeley this spring for his seat on the board, said all of the safety and aesthetic upgrades can be accomplished with a four-lane plan. “Fix Mass. Ave., don’t ruin it,” she said.
The following Town Meeting members spoke in favor of moving forward with the current design: Adam Auster (Precinct 3), Barbara Boltz (9), Robin Dratch (3), Molly Flueckiger (4), Goff (7), Gordon Jamieson (12), Alan Jones (14), Hugh McCrory (20) and Susan Stamps (3). (Update 12 p.m., Nawwaf Kaba (4) and Clarissa Rowe (4) also spoke in favor.)
Owners of the Capitol Theatre, Barismo and DrumConnection also spoke in support, as did Salvage’s owner, via a letter. David Watson, the executive director of MassBike, and representatives from the town’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and Disability Commission did so as well.
The following Town Meeting members spoke against it: Berger (6), Sean Harrington (15), Stephen Harrington (13), Mark Kaepplein (7) and Romano (7).
The owner of Arlington Vision Center did so too.
The Federal Highway Administration called the hearing, which delayed the project moving forward (the town and state were already on board).
Residents complained Tuesday that a representative from the federal government was not at the hearing. A representative never stepped forward, but a high-level federal highway official was in attendance, according to a town official.
Residents now have 10 days to submit written comments to the state at the following address:
Thomas F. Broderick, P.E., Chief Engineer
MassDOT – Highway Division
10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116-3973
Attn: Project Management
After that time, the Federal Highway Administration, state Department of Transportation and town will come together to decide whether or not to move forward.
The project’s construction, which is expected to cost approximately $6.8 million, is 80 percent federally funded, 20 percent state.
State Sen. Ken Donnelly, an Arlington resident, said if the project doesn’t move forward now, the whole planning process, including funding, may be in jeopardy of being reset. The state has to advertise a federal aid project by early September, he said.
“There is not enough time to redesign the project and meet the September deadline,” he said. “It’s time to make a decision that will determine if we move on using the funding available to us or wait and use local money, our money.”
“My concern,” Donnelly added, “is with all of the competing projects and the state funds are scarce, we will lose this funding.”
Donnelly was interrupted during his remarks by a chorus of jeers. Later, supporters applauded loudly so that Berger could not be heard after his allotted three minutes were up.