WESTFIELD – North side residents have new reason for excitement, as Papermill Road, one of the most pothole-afflicted roadways in the city, has been named a public way by lawmakers, making it eligible for road improvement funds from Beacon Hill.
An effort that has been pushed by Ward 6 City Councilor Christopher Crean, the cause was first taken to the State Senate by Sen. Don Humason, Jr. (R-Westfield) and then ratified by the House shortly thereafter.
“It was a local option bill started by the City Council and it came down to the legislature through me,” said Humason. “Because it’s a local option bill, the legislature usually passes it no problem. It got through to the Governor’s desk and I anticipate no problems with him signing it.”
Humason clarified that the local option bill is different from a home rule bill in and that the bill was written up by the Westfield City Council, and brought to the legislature unaltered.
“It started with the local government saying they wanted the legislature to act on it only because the legislature had to,” he said. “We passed it in the exact same language that the City Council gave us.”
Humason said that upgrading the road to a public way comes at a time when the oft-used road is most in need of fixing and repairs.
“It will be included in part of our Chapter 90 formula funding. It’s taken into account in Chapter 90 just how many miles of public way we have in the city of Westfield,” Humason said. “Papermill is a long, windy road and it receives a lot of heavy traffic, not just from the sand and gravel company, but also from school buses, too.”
“The road needs some repairs, and now that its a public way, it’s eligible for state funds,” said State Representative John Velis (D-Westfield). “Its a big deal. Chris Crean was the driving force on the City Council, and then Don introduced it in the Senate, where it was stuck in Third Reading until last Thursday.”
Velis said he went to Theodore Speliotis (D-Danvers), chairman of the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, and plead with the North Shore Democrat to make it happen.
“I said ‘we need this named as a public way.’ He asked how bad we wanted it and I said ‘we want it.'” said Velis. “Obviously this is key because, with the local aid being down so much, right now this is a way for the state to help us pay for Papermill Road.”
“It’s long overdue and I’m elated that it finally happened,” said Crean. “I appreciate the efforts of Representative Velis and Senator Humason for helping to get this along in the State House and get it approved.”
“It’s been about four months since they brought this up to get this resolution passed and accepted,” he said. “Now our next hurdle will be getting the funding to make the improvements on that road.”
“It’s been a long, arduous journey and it’s nearly complete,” said Westfield Mayor Daniel M. Knapik. “Local option is normally related to say, the sales tax in asking for additional taxes. In this case, we were asking to petition the legislature to approve for us the action we’d proposed to take.”
“During my time on the council, we identified a number of streets that had some problems,” he said. “We had received some grants to build sidewalks on Papermill Road through the ‘Safe Routes To School’ program, and I want to say it might’ve been in ’08 or ’09. Chris Crean had led the effort to have the public meetings on this.”
Knapik said there was pushback from residents, who didn’t want to care for the sidewalks and didn’t want people walking so close to their properties.
“If you took the money, you could only use it on streets that were publicly accepted, and as part of the due dilligence, we found out Papermill hadn’t been publicly accepted,” he said. “We tried a couple of options to get it publicly accepted. We tried to get everybody who had frontage on the street to turnover their deeds, and there was another action we had done, but none of it worked.”
“In the end, we ended up going this route, which allows us to claim it is a public way and we can repair it appropriately,” said Knapik, adding that the city will look to do repairs on Papermill Road next summer.