Westfield projects near completion

WESTFIELD – To city motorists, it may seem like the city’s streets have always been under construction but, in fact, the recent projects that have snarled city traffic have only been in the works for – at most – five years and the major disruptions are now a memory with completions expected in the first half of 2012.
The project to create a “sister span” across the Great River parallel to the longstanding Great River Bridge has been considered for decades and was one of the first construction projects approved by Gov. Deval Patrick when ground was broken in the spring of 2007.
Now, traffic flows more freely over twin spans with limited work still to be done.
Mayor Daniel Knapik said that work will continue on three traffic islands – at the intersections of Elm Street with Meadow Street Union Street with North Elm Street and on North Elm Street where southbound traffic splits and northbound traffic merges – until winter weather forces a halt.
In addition, a guard rail on the east side of the old span still needs to be completed but Knapik said that whatever work is not done before the snow flies should be finished in the spring, bringing the five-year project to completion on schedule.
The major reconstruction of the intersection of Elm and Broad streets has been underway since April of 2010 and it too should be finished in the spring.
Again, Knapik said that work will continue until the workers are forced out by snow but said that, for that project, the weather is not the only limiting factor.
The renovations to both Park Square and the area in front of the Athenaeum require a considerable amount of granite which the quarry producing the granite has been challenged to provide.
Knapik said that work will continue as long as possible and be completed in the spring, probably by May, when ample supplies of granite will have been stockpiled.
Also in the spring, a final layer of pavement will be laid down in the area around Park Square and the side streets, which have been impacted by the construction project, will be milled and resurfaced to complete that project.
With the completion of the two major projects, Knapik said the major impediments left to traffic on the Elm Street corridor are “a couple of choke points we’re going to start working on.”
The work which will probably affect city motorists most will be on the section of Elm Street between the two major projects.
Work on that section will be a city funded effort of about $1.2 million to update waterlines, sidewalks and pavement, as well as the replacement of the traffic signals at Franklin and Arnold streets.
Knapik said that a major improvement of the project will be to excavate under the railroad overpass to allow tractor-trailer units, which now may safely pass only under the center portion of the bridge, to travel freely under the overpass. The clearance, now 11 feet 3 inches, will rise three feet to accommodate the trucks.
The crux of the problem with the stretch of Elm Street is the narrow roadway which will funnel traffic to one lane for a short distance. Knapik said that, in order to allow for two lanes of traffic each way, the parking on the street would have to be eliminated, a step the city is not willing to take.
Instead, he said, a dedicated turning lane will be provided to allow north and southbound traffic to continue while other motorists await opportunities to make left turns on to Bartlett or Orange streets.
He said that work on that project will begin in the spring but said “it’ll be done by fall.  It’s a quick one.”
The other “choke point” the mayor mentioned is at the bottom of Clay Hill and will be dealt with by improved traffic signal lights.
He said that replacing the lights at the intersection of Notre Dame Street, together with the replacements at Franklin Street and at Arnold Street, will complete the changeover of all of the lights on the Elm Street corridor to new generation traffic lights, which can communicate with each other to improve traffic flow. The new traffic signals have camera sensors to observe the number of vehicles approaching the lights and can coordinate the signals accordingly.
Although the two major projects which have frustrated motorists will be completed in 2012, there will still be a few concerns to address in the city, which may temporally disrupt traffic.
An effort the mayor called a “colonial style gas lamping project” will start in 2012 and will see the installation of period style street lighting on Elm Street from School Street to Franklin Street continuing on Franklin Street to Washington Street.
Decorative street lamps will be installed and the sidewalks, curbing, pavement and utilities will be replaced. Knapik said that the city funded project will cost about $3 million and will be ready to start in late spring, “probably May or June.”
That project, he said, will be “a two year effort, two summers at least.”
Another project, one that will have minimal impact on traffic, will be the state funded replacement of the bridge at the top of ‘Drug Store Hill’ on Pochassic Street which spans the railroad tracks.
Knapik said that contractors have been invited to bid on the $5.2 project and the bidding period will close in the last week of January. Then, he said, the bids will be reviewed within 60 days and construction should start “sometime in June, if everything goes as planned.” The mayor said the replacement bridge is estimated to be completed in 18 months.
Another north side project which will start this summer is an effort to improve Arch Road.
Knapik said that the city funded project will cost “less than a quarter million dollars” and will address flooding issues and straighten a curve in the road which connects North Elm Street with Lockhouse Road.
And on the south side, a project to remake Chapman Playground will heat up in the spring but will also have little impact on traffic.
Knapik said that the playground has already been leveled and prepared for the construction of the new playground. The project is expected to cost almost a million dollars but Knapik said that it is underwritten by a half million dollar grant.

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