Western Avenue residents reject project

WESTFIELD – About 130 residents gathered last night in the South Middle School cafeteria listened patiently for more than two hours while City Engineer Mark Cressotti and the city’s consulting engineers presented an update of the design plan for the Western Avenue reconstruction project.
Details of the plan revisions were given by Mark Arigoni and Matthew Christy, both with the Springfield office of Milone & MacBroom. Arigoni said that the project engineers heard the comments of residents at the first public hearing held last November and identified goals of reducing the speed of traffic and increasing safety.
Arigoni said that the revised design narrows the pavement, for 11-foot-wide travel lanes to 10 feet wide and that the shoulders of either, originally planned to be 5 to 8 feet wide to accommodate bicyclists and turning vehicle are now down to four feet in width.
“That narrower travel lane will slow traffic and it forces people to pay attention,” Arigoni said.
The revised plan now calls for a 10-foot-wide multi-use trail along the south side of Western Avenue for 9,000 feet, starting Laura Drive and terminating at the intersection of Granville Road. Separating pedestrians and bicyclists from vehicular traffic will reduce “conflicts” between those three groups.
Several residents voiced concerns about the aesthetic impact of a 10-foot wide blacktop multi-use path and suggested that a concrete structure would be better. Arigoni said the use of concrete will substantially increase the cost of the project.
Other speakers just do not like the multi-use concept, while at least one speaker reminded residents of the two traffic fatalities and one serious injury in that area of Western Avenue.
There is also a consideration of making Kensington Avenue a one-way street southbound and making Broadway a one-way street northbound.
Other features include installing a traffic light at the top of Lloyds Hill Road, which would be widened at that intersection to provide two southbound turning lanes, one left and one right, onto Western Avenue. Other modifications to Lloyds include construction of a sidewalk to line the multi-use trail to Russell Road (Route 20).
The project begins and ends with revamped intersections. Upper Western Avenue is being turned 90 degrees to the north to intersect with Bates Road, while the intersection of Mill, Court and High streets is also being restructured.
The egress to and from the Westfield State University south parking lot will be modified and tied into Laura Drive. Residents opposed said that would increase student traffic through their neighborhood and that the revamped road would also exasperate the present stormwater drainage problems.
Arigoni and Christy said that there will be three different treatments for traffic islands, some will be painted, others will be textured and the third option is raised islands with landscaping. Motorists will be able to cross the painted and textured islands with their vehicles.
The commuter parking lot is also being modified to align with Westwood Drive, with dedicated turning lanes.
Residents wanted to eliminate bus stops and require buses to turn into the campus facilities to board and discharge passengers.
Toward the end of the session, residents became frustrated with the entire project. Overlook Drive resident Frank Mills incited a minor revolt by stating that the solution to the Western Avenue traffic problem was to build an access road directly between the campus and Russell Road.
Several residents pushed that issue and asked if a referendum could be held to kill the entire project.
Cressotti said that the Western Avenue improvement project is the only option available to improve safety and traffic flow along Western Avenue. Arigoni said the plan will be further modified and, at some point, sent to the state Department of Transportation which will conduct another public hearing on the 25 percent design.

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