Main Street debate continues; Vote on Tuesday night requires 2/3 to pass

Above: Following a presentation on the Main Street Reconstruction project by the Public Works Superintendent, Main Street Design Working Group’s Chair explained to the audience why most of his committee is in favor of the plan. (photo by Beth Melo)

Last night, Town officials walked residents through the Main Street Reconstruction project and answered questions. They explained why the road requires deep repairs to its sub base. They defined the alternatives. And they tried to debunk the idea that there may be lower cost alternatives not acknowledged.

For the project to move forward, it requires 2/3 of voters to approve easements on Tuesday night. And officials made clear it is the Town’s last shot for that approval – or state funding of the $7M project through MassDOT’s TIP program goes away.

A vote on easements failed in April. At the time, one of the big obstacles was owners of two businesses on Main Street (Morris Funeral Home and Dr. Stone’s office) who asked the public to reject the reduced parking.

Now officials explain the only way the businesses will get any parking is if easements allow sidewalks on their property. If there are no easements, sidewalks will be prioritized over giving them parking. (No one representing the property owners appeared to be present last night to comment.)

And residents won’t be given an option for how to amend the project on Tuesday. The article is specific to getting the state-required easements.

Last night’s forum had a small turnout with about 20 residents and about 10 officials. Most commenters spoke on behalf of the project and the need to rally support. (One even pointed residents to a Facebook page setup for supporters to spread the word.)

But one commenter provided another preview of challenges that supporters face on Tuesday night.

Sam Stivers, a vocal opponent of the state-funded TIP* plan, continued to speak out as a self-defined “naysayer”. Stivers is one of many residents who objects to widening of the Route 85 & Route 30 intersection to include two new turning lanes. (That aspect is one of the most widely debated features of the plan.)

But even the locally-funded $4.7M alternative outlined by the Main Street Design Working Group, eliminating the turn lanes, doesn’t have his support. 

Earlier, Working Group Chair Martin Healey explained to residents that they did the best they could to improve the road’s aesthetic. Based on resident feedback, whenever possible, 12-18″ greenery strips will be inserted before sidewalks.** And MassDOT will replace any removed trees with two. He believed most agreed that the aesthetic will be better. But he acknowledged “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Stivers is one of those with a different eye. He couldn’t define why the look would ruin the town character he seeks to preserve. He just feels that it would. (That has been an ongoing battle between the Main Street Design Working Group and project opponents – a purported inability to explain the aesthetic they want.)

But he didn’t just object to the look. He also opined there is a lower cost alternative officials aren’t talking about. He couldn’t provide the data last night, but said we would all learn more at Town Meeting on Tuesday.

Selectman John Rooney asked Stivers to explain how his figures were calculated. Stivers only responded that he’s not an engineer.

Opponents keep pointing to figures quoted in the past that purportedly prove the Town can fix the road at a lower cost. Public Works Director Karen Galligan has repeatedly stated that one past figures was a mistake, and says another is being misunderstood. She argues that neither $925,000 nor $2.25 Million can repair the road for the long haul.

According to Public Works and their consulting engineers, the road’s deep problems and layers of underlying silt and sand require sub base work. A repave won’t do it. And doing just a few inches of “reclaim” would result in cracking within a year and potholes within five years. That’s something the Town won’t invest in – a short term solution that requires another fix just a few years later.

At the Annual Town Meeting in April, John Butler told voters that Galligan estimated $925K could repair the road, if we treated it like any other road instead of including state requirements. Galligan has since explained that she quoted that years ago based on mistakenly thinking the road didn’t need deeper repairs. And she forgot to include costly items like contracting staff for project oversight. (Public Works doesn’t have enough staff to handle the big project on their own.)

The $2.25 M quote from a May memo was recently referred to by Steve Phillips. That memo defines that the quote is for a 4″ reclaim as would be recommended on other roads. At that time, she specified that it wasn’t sufficient to properly repair the heavily traveled road.

In that May memo, doing all of the work of the Main Street Reconstruction project minus the easements would cost $5.3 M. Since then, the Working Group itemized a requested simpler alternative, removing some of that work. It brings the number down to $4.7 M. The new cost estimates weren’t invented by Public Works. They were pulled out of the same database the state uses to estimate project work.

Healey says the big price tag shouldn’t be a surprise. He explained that most of the cost for the $7M state funded plan is what is required to do the sub base fix and paving. So, it’s natural that any alternative project would still include the majority of the expenses.

Stivers and others have referred to using Chapter 90 money to cover a lower cost project. Officials said even if there was a lower cost version, diverting all Chapter 90 funds to the project would mean that all other town roadwork projects would have to be put of for a few years.

Still, it’s clear that despite efforts by selectmen and the Working Group, residents will continue to question the price tag at Town Meeting. And since many components of the project are based on compromises, it’s likely that many will object to some aspects – even if not the same one. Which means a 2/3 vote will be a big hurdle for the Town to pass.

You can learn more about the proposed state-funded project on the Town’s website. It includes FAQs, an explanation of infrastructure issues, an overview pamphlet, and easement summaries. (Though some renderings are still missing the planned greenery strips.)**

[I was hoping to receive a copy of the new presentation given last night – but it hasn’t come in yet. If I get it in time to be helpful to readers, I’ll update this post.]

And you can learn more about the Town’s defined locally-funded alternative, here.

If you still aren’t sure where you stand, you can expect to learn a lot more on Tuesday night. Town officials are planning to give thorough presentation and make their case. And you can be sure that opponents will use public comment period to make their case. So, come on out and hear what everyone has to say. Then vote.

(Don’t forget, Southborough Recreation will be offering babysitting for $5 per child.)

The meeting is at Trottier Middle School beginning at 7:00 pm. The first Main Street article is up for vote early in the Warrant – after just a few quick Town business items.

*TIP = Transportation Improvement Project by Mass Department of Transportation

**Some of the project renderings mistakenly excluded the grass strips. Public Works and the Working Group hope to get images updated in time to share more accurate renderings at Town Meeting.

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Souse Bro
6 years ago

The very 1st I’ve heard that the easement of their front lawns would ensure they would still have parking spaces, without it both plans seem to eliminate them. Sounds like a no-brainer. I lived on Southville Rd. most of my life, the reconstruction of Southville & 85 with left turn lanes was a God-send, faster & much safer.
Good Luck Flagg Rd. neighbors, kinda sounds like you might have some support from Selectmen, Planning and Conservation…plus most residents.

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