Town defines Main St alternative (estimated $4.7M project) – Public forums this week, vote next week

Above: Public Works bring its presentation on the Main St project, and answer questions about the newly-defined alternative, this week. (image from DPW presentation posted to website earlier this year)

One week from today, Town Meeting voters will be asked to decide on the future of Main Street. Article 4 would approve easements for the Town’s project under a state-funded TIP* plan. Article 5 would instead urge selectmen to construct the road to Town’s basic standards, without TIP funding.

Last week, the Town finally defined what that choice would be.

The Main Street Design Working Group presented to selectmen what a bare-minimum, alternative Town-funded project would include. The estimated cost of $4.7 Million would tax the average homeowner a total of $1,435 spread over 10 years. (That’s based on ave. home value of $575,00.)

Click thumbnails to see the spreadsheets presented:

20161011-msdwg-alternative-plan-estimated-expenses      20161011-msdwg-alternative-plan-not-included  20161011-msdwg-alternative-plan-taxpayer-cost

Taking on the cost may be preferred by some who are unhappy with changes to Main Street proposed under the state-funded TIP plan. But what the project should and shouldn’t include has always been contentious – so others may disagree over more than just swallowing the cost.

Some items not included in the alternative project: Turning lanes at the traffic light at Routes 30 & 85, additional sidewalks (Parkerville – Sears & Rte. 85), grass strips between sidewalks and street, a light at the public safety driveway, crosswalk treatments, library drainage, Common Street work, and parking accommodations across from the Town Common. Roadways also wouldn’t be widened, allowing mature trees to stay, rather than paying to plant replacements plus additional trees.

[Editor’s Note: Reminder – two forums allow residents to learn and ask questions about Main Street project (and alternative) this week. Seniors can attend this Wednesday’s 9:30 am forum at the Southborough Senior Center. And the Southborough Library is hosting a forum this Thursday, October 13th from 7:00 – 8:30 pm.]

When vocal opponents to the Main St project said it was up to the Town to define the alternative, selectmen pushed the Main Street Design Working Group to do it. The list was based on guidance from selectmen and Public Works as to what the Town’s bare minimum standards for the project are. With that list, they asked DPW’s consultants to pull the costs from the standard cost database used by the state.

The Working Group presented last Tuesday night. And they shared the Town Treasurer’s estimate of what a 10 year bond for the work would cost the Town and taxpayers. (Apparently, statutes prevent taking out longer-term bonds for roadwork.)

Presenting members explained the price tag made it unfeasible to relying on Chapter 90 funds for non-Town funding. Collecting the amount necessary would mean pushing the project out 8 years, plus pushing off other projects that would have used that money.

As part of the presentation, and subsequent debate, Working Group members explained why it is necessary to repair the roadway deeper than some opponents believe necessary. Rebutting a comment by Steve Phillips , Sue Baust said the subsurface has not been compacted by traffic over the years.

Former Public Works Director (now Working Group member) John Boland had taken core samples from the roadway, and found it to be largely sandy silt and rocky sand. Sand doesn’t compact, it rolls. That is why public works and engineers believe that it is necessary to dig down by 24″. And member Claire Reynolds said that the simple repaving done by the state at the end of Main Street has already begun to crack.

Phillips is a Working Group member, but also one of the citizens behind Article 5. He previewed some arguments you ma hear on Town Meeting floor that selectmen had been hoping to avoid.

Selectman John Rooney made it clear that he wanted clear choices so voters could make informed decisions. That meant that what an alternative minimum means, and what that would cost, shouldn’t be up for debate next Tuesday.  

But Phillips continued to question the necessity of deep work and related costs. Pointing to a may memo from Public Works Director Karen Galligan, he said that a $2.2 million option may be possible. And if so, he laid out a way to use Chapter 90 funds to do it.

Baust rebutted Phillips, saying the $2.2 didn’t include other items required in the full project estimate. She believed the figure was provided by a DPW employee without a full understanding of what the project would entail. (The $2.2 Million was purportedly just the 2nd & 3rd items on the presented list, at bottom of story, for roadway and sidewalk.)

When the full project list was defined, the estimate came back at $4.7 Million. That includes items like drainage work, road signs and paint, construction oversight, traffic management, and resetting utility poles.

Phillips characterized the alternative as the TIP project without easements. He said that if residents vote to protect the Town character by rejecting the TIP plan, they would be unlikely to approve a $5 Million bond for essentially the same plan.

Selectmen Paul Cimino said he objected to the claim that it was the same project in a different cloak. And Baust pointed out major differences in lack of turning lanes, not widening the roads, and not extending sidewalks. (Even Phillips himself seemed to undermine his own argument by saying the difference was based on roads not being widened, and therefore not taking down trees.)

Galligan wasn’t present for the meeting. (She was on vacation.) However, she will be helping to make the Town’s case this week in the public forums.

*TIP = Transportation Improvement Project by Mass Department of Transportation

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7 years ago

I thought recall hearing how the Selectmen/women we’re really going to make a push to get the town out to vote at the special town meeting. Rally the troops. I haven’t heard or seen anything around that suggests they are working toward that goal. This town meeting will result in the same outcome as last year. Opponents will out vote proponents because there is no rally cry. The intersection needs turning lanes in my opinion. A plan that doesn’t address that is a waste of money.

SB Resident
7 years ago

Yeah… I’m pretty sure what everyone wants is to just repave the surface like they do for every other road. All the rest of this minimum nonsense is just an attempt to make this look so expensive to get people to vote for the state plan. (This is the rally the troops plan.) Southborough politics as usual.

7 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

If by “everyone” you mean those opposed to the state-funded plan, you may be right.

However, we will never know. Town officials repeatedly asked those opposed to the project as originally proposed at the last Town Meeting to offer specific alternatives, and those residents repeatedly failed to do so. So, now the Town has come up with an alternative. We can only guess as to what those who oppose the project would want to see as an alternative. Perhaps nothing is the answer.

7 years ago
Reply to  em

Hi em,
It’s surprising that you believe the residents who are looking for alternatives to the TIP project bear the responsiblity of providing them. It is absolutely the town’s responsiblity to determine what all the options are to solving a significant and costly problem BEFORE presenting solutions to the residents for a vote at Town Meeting.

If you have a major renovation to consider in your own home, such as an central A/C system or a kitchen remodel, would you only get one proposal and quote from one contractor? The answer here should be no…

Thank you to the Main Street Committee for putting the time and effort to detail this alternative to the TIP plan!

7 years ago
Reply to  Wendy

Not the blueprints, but the features. If I hire a contractor, I do not expect him/her to develop a proposal without knowing what features I want in my kitchen. I would say that I want a breakfast nook and a gas range, for example. It would then up to the contractor to offer plans to make that happen. I would not expect residents to come up with the plan, but instead of just saying “no,” they should at least have offered what features they want. Then again, maybe they did not do this because they do not actually want any project at all. Since those opposed did not offer any features, the Town has created an alternative that includes the features that it (including the DPW) see as being key elements of any project.

7 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

This is a main roadway that has a lot of heavy vehicle traffic. Look at the road and the ruts in it – that tells me that under pavement the base is in need of a lot of work. My guess is that way back when, as vehicles got bigger, the grader came through and leveled out whatever was on the side of the roadway and put asphalt over it. As vehicles and trucks got heavier and heavier, the old loam and whatever was graded could not handle the weight. Also, the drainage on Main Street is poor at best in some section which has to add to the problem.

You can put lipstick on a pig and it is still a pig – you can put asphalt on a road base needing so much more, and it is still a road base needing so much more!

7 years ago

The state plan is a good plan.

Frank Crowell
7 years ago

How much will St Mark’s and Fay School be assessed for town funded “maintain the rural look” Main Street project? Oh…………….that’s right……………….they don’t pay property taxes. But they and their resisdent employees can influence the direction and change the character of downtown. What they want they get.

Certainly we can count on them to increase their PILOT contributions to help out. Yeah, that’s right – I will not hold my breath.

7 years ago

I firmly believe that we were given a price tag of less than $1,000,000 to simply repair and pave the areas in question at the last Town Meeting.
Somehow that number didn’t include what has amounted to an added 500% increase in that original cost.
how can I not think that the numbers are being manipulated to achieve an already-decided outcome?

Steve Phillips
7 years ago

I would like to address several inaccuracies in this article regarding my comments at the recent Board of Selectmen meeting. The project descriptions and costs I quoted at this meeting are taken directly from a memo written by DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan to the Board of Selectmen, dated May 10, 2016, which you can find on the town web site as part of the selectman’s packet for the May 17th BOS meeting. Ms. Galligan wrote this memo AFTER the easements were rejected at April Town Meeting. Since she’s been working on this project for the past decade, I don’t see how you can characterize Ms. Galligan in this article as “a DPW employee without a full understanding of what the project would entail.” I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to read this memo — you don’t have to take my word for it.

The DPW’s current “bare minimum” alternative plan corresponds closely to the project option Ms. Galligan described in her May 10 memo as “Project w/o Easements” (estimated then at $5.3M). The DPW’s “Project w/o Easements” option did not include a larger intersection or wider roadway, because any increase would require easements to be taken on the properties adjoining the intersection. So the goal of this option, as presented by Ms. Galligan to the BOS, was to do as much of the TIP project as possible with town money and without easements. This plan was rejected as unrealistic by the selectmen back on May 17, so it’s curious that this rejected option has come back to life as the “only” way to fix Main Street without federal funding.

My comment about trees was also misunderstood. Tree replacement is being touted as a benefit of the TIP plan, when in fact the very reason we need replacement trees is because the TIP plan will cause dozens of mature trees to be destroyed along the length of the project. If we build an alternate plan which does not include roadway widening or pole relocation, these trees never have to be taken down in the first place, so it seems disingenuous to portray one of the main disadvantages of the TIP plan — the loss of mature trees requiring extensive replacement — as a feature.

The same May 10 memo outlines a simpler and less disruptive option of resurfacing Main Street along its existing footprint (the “Any Road” treatment). The work includes installing granite curbs between ALL current sidewalks and the roadway, repaving the roadway and sidewalks, and a variety of drainage improvements to connect to the Library and Fay School drainage systems. The “Any Road” option, originally estimated by Ms. Galligan at $925,000 in 2014, was updated to $2.25M in the May 10 memo, on the basis that a road like Main Street needed more extensive roadway treatment to handle the additional traffic volume. So this $2.25M estimate for a standard resurfacing project already includes enhanced roadway treatment and fixes the safety issues caused by our current lack of dividers between the roadway and sidewalks. Or at least that’s what we were being told as recently as May of this year.

A $2.25M project can be funded completely out of our standard road maintenance budget without tax increases. According to the same May 10 memo, we have $415K of Chapter 90 funds allocated specifically for Main Street plus another $675,000 of unallocated Chapter 90 funding. By using this $1.1M of existing Chapter 90 funds plus about half of our annual Chapter 90 budget, or $350K, over each of the next four years, we could implement a $2.5 million project with no impact on property taxes or town borrowing.

I’d like to mention a few of the logical disconnects about this project which I find puzzling:

1. The DPW is claiming that the Main Street roadway is so unstable that the road will start sinking and cracking right away without extensive (and expensive) reconstruction. So how is it that this road, last redone longer ago than even former DPW Supt. John Boland can remember, has carried extremely heavy traffic for decades, far beyond its original design standards, and continues to carry this traffic today? Every day, 18-wheelers, fire trucks, and until recently, Ted’s heaviest tow trucks pulling tandem trailers, have been able to traverse this road without sinking into potholes. If this is what qualifies as a failing road which was never properly constructed, how long would a roadway have to last in this town to be considered a success?

2. We’re being told that ADA standards or other laws require us to add sidewalks to nowhere, install dedicated bike lanes, move poles etc. as part of any Main Street project. Is this going to be true every time we redo a road in town from now on? This wasn’t a requirement when we resurfaced Boston Road and Latisquama, and it’s not going to be a requirement when we redo the section of Main Street by the railroad crossing and Mauro’s Market with standard Chapter 90 funds?

3. Why did the selectmen and DPW so rigorously discourage any discussion of alternatives to the TIP project until after they lost the first vote at Town Meeting? The Main Street Working Group was instructed, in our initial charge from the Board of Selectmen, to focus only on ways the TIP-funded project could be improved. Discussion of any alternative plan was studiously avoided. This is why we’re in the position of having to evaluate the credibility — at this late date — of a plan developed over the past couple of months without any meaningful public discussion. It certainly appears that the cost of an alternative plan is being used as a last-minute scare tactic to get a do-over on the same plan town voters rejected last April.

I’ll finish up with the famous Upton Sinclair quote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” We have already spent over $750,000 of our Chapter 90 funds on engineering design for the TIP project, with more spending required to bring this project to the 100% design phase, so the TIP project is far from the “free lunch” it’s been portrayed as. If in fact the TIP plan is defeated again at Special Town Meeting, I hope that Southborough voters will insist on an independent evaluation of the road subsurface by an unrelated, objective consultant before moving ahead with any alternative project.

Steve Phillips
7 years ago
Reply to  Steve Phillips

Sorry, I have to correct my math on Chapter 90 funding. Chapter 90 refers specifically to the state funding and doesn’t include the town’s contributions for highway maintenance. In 2014 our Chapter 90 allocation was $429K, so an allocation of $300K per year would be closer to 70% if our annual Chapter 90 funding for these four years, assuming we remained funded at approximately 2014 levels. My apologies for the error.

7 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

The description “Project w/o Easements” is Ms. Galligan’s own — I did not make this term up myself. I’m not describing some mythical option here — this is a specific option which was described in the May 10 memo. Your article implies that I was suggesting that the TIP project and “Project w/o Easements” are the same — they are not. The “Projects w/o Easements” proposal is to do as much of the TIP project as possible without easements and using town funds. That’s why the selectmen rejected this option as impractical at their May 17 meeting.

7 years ago
Reply to  Steve

I also have to question whether our moderator is turning into a cheerleader for one side of this debate.

Al Hamilton
7 years ago

While I chair the Public Safety Building Study Committee the following comments are mine alone and do not reflect the will of the Committee:

The BOS has recently announced that they have negotiated an agreement in principle to acquire the St. Marks Golf course. Pending approvals by Town Meeting and the voters this will be the site of the new Public Safety Complex. Access to our road network for emergency vehicles will likely be on Rt 85 somewhere across from the Cemetery.

That means that if you live North, East, or West of the 85/30 intersection emergency vehicles will have to transit this busy intersection to get you your house.

As part of anyone’s evaluation the alternative proposals they should consider its impact on response time for our emergency services. I for one believe that a wider intersection with turning lanes will reduce response times for emergency vehicles (ambulance and fire apparatus) to sites North, East and West of the 85/30 intersection.

Pat D
7 years ago

What is the estimate for the state-funded TIP project? In all this conversation, I have no idea what the original estimate is and when it was done — 2014, 2015. Seems to me the town of Southborough will be holding the bag for any state overruns (and you can bet that there will be overruns) because by the time they get around to doing this project (which has now been pushed to 2018), the original estimate will be outdated. Not to mention the inconvenience and disruption the actual construction will cause. Most likely historically, all told, this project will not be conpleted on time or on budget. Southborough will have to pay no matter the way the project is done — state funded or town funded.

7 years ago
Reply to  Pat D

Beth is correct that these are confusing issues to anyone who hasn’t been following this project in detail, and I know she wasn’t the only one who wasn’t sure what point I was trying to make at Town Meeting. I’m glad that this forum gives me a chance to explain the point I was trying to get across — which is that I believe the DPW has already placed a third option on the table involving a limited resurfacing and adding curbs to existing sidewalks. I believe that we should thoroughly explore this third option if in fact the town moves forward with an alternative project.

One other quick point: although we have heard verbal assurances from our engineering firm that the town would only be liable for cost overruns past 10% in certain situations such as design errors, the sample agreement letter I’ve seen doesn’t mention any exceptions. I don’t know how likely we are to run into overruns, and maybe we’re safe in practice as we’ve been told, but I believe that our legal obligation applies to any type of overrun past 10% regardless of the circumstances.

SB Resident
7 years ago
Reply to  Steve

I agree with you Steve that a limited resurfacing is clearly the best option, keep up the good fight and maybe our leaders will eventually listen! Lets just finally get this road repaved so we can move on to figuring out the public safety buildings.

Pete G
7 years ago

On Rt 85 there are left turn lanes at Southville Rd, Richards Rd, and the DPW. Doesn’t it make sense that there should be some at Main St.? After all, it is the main street of the town. The Southborough residents should be encouraged to use their town center; not deterred because it is a bottleneck. We have already paid for traffic upgrades through our state taxes. Other towns have had their upgrades paid for in the same manner and to the same standards. The current road design may have worked when the population and traffic was a fraction of what it is today; but it doesn’t meet today’s volume. Today with all the distracted driving, bicycles, and pedestrians, we need curbs and sidewalks to keep people safe.

7 years ago

At the last Town Meeting, the proponents of the Main Street TIP project made their compelling arguments in favor of the proposal.
Many undecided were probably swayed…until the opponents had a chance to present their point of view. I know that listening to those opponents caused me to re-think my vote at that time.
Last night, the proponents were giver 30-40 minutes to again present their proposal and then our new Town Moderator allowed a motion to “move the question”.
I was shocked and disappointed. And altho I do think the Moderator should have told the motion requestor that he would not yet entertain such an unfair motion at that time, I am really disappointed in all of the very experienced politicians who were on that stage and did not try and give this new Moderator some guidance on this issue.
The vote was relatively close… more than 2/3 but less than 3/4. I wonder what it would have been if it was taken after the opposition had some chance to speak.
So sad in my opinion… not in the spirit of Town Meeting at all.

7 years ago

Yes Southsider,

What if they were allowed to hear the impact that the Main Street Project will truly have on our rural side streets? The truth is we have now handed over our lovely little town to the state. The state (DOT) wants traffic diverted from Route 9 into the town roads, so not only will we have a mega project undertaken on Main Street we now also will have Park Central getting underway. Our feeder roads will now take the brunt of two large projects. The DOT has not been interested in listening to citizen’s concerns about the increased traffic flow on Flagg. So when this project (Main Street) gets underway the state will do exactly what they want to do with their 7.2 million dollar project. I was dismayed that the vote was called by a BOS member when opposing views clearly hadn’t gotten their fair time. In fact, it makes me leary of subsequent Town Meetings now that voter participation and comment and discussion can be allowed to be cut off so quickly. I see a trend.

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