Our city government has been aware of Route 128-Route 9 Add-A-Lane project since 1999. The Public Safety and Transportation Committee of the Board of Aldermen has met nine times to discuss the project’s impact on Newton, the latest meeting being on March 6, 2013.
One of those committee meetings was advertised as a public meeting where Newton residents were encouraged to relay concerns. The announcement of that meeting was a small notice in the Newton TAB. The full Board of Aldermen has never held a hearing on this issue. The mayor’s office has been eerily silent about the whole project.
A few Newton aldermen attended a Needham Public Hearing held in Needham with DOT officials over a year ago. Although the Add-A-Lane Project wriggles along Newton’s western border and the bridges that are within the scope of the project lead traffic directly into Newton, this meeting was not intended for the Newton public, but for the Needham and Wellesley public because the project is legally within their borders and not inside Newton. At that meeting in Needham, concerns were raised about the Kendrick Street bridge and the impact of traffic on Newton’s southernmost streets (Nahanton, Winchester, Dedham, Parker Streets). Concerns about bicycle lanes and pedestrian access were also raised. There was absent anyone to champion the probable impact of the project terminus, the proposed redesign of the Route 9 Intersection with Route 128.
The aldermen on the PS and T committee submitted questions to the MA DOT well over a year ago and were satisfied waiting a year for responses that were incomplete and non-compelling.
Enter the residents of Waban. Drawn to awareness of the poor concept of changing a working cloverleaf intersection to one that would have two traffic lights and a two-leaf cloverleaf configuration with backup leading to drivers leaving Route 9 for passage on neighborhood streets, I’m part of a group of residents who began a discussion that continues today.
We have asked for meetings with the Mayor (to no avail). We have submitted questions and organized speakers at the March P S and T committee hearing. We are members of the fledgling organization hoping to become the Waban Area Council. And we are fast learning the barrier they must surmount to stimulate interest and accomplish change.
At the last Waban Area Council meeting on March 28, 2013, Newton’s Director of Transportation, William Paille, spoke of his sense that the Add-A-Lane Project was a “done deal” and that the state is going to carry out their construction as planned. There has been no evaluation of the DOT proposal by the City’s professionals. Half of the Functional Design Report was never seen by the Aldermen on the PS and T Committee and we have had to challenge the DOT to produce missing pages as well as the Environmental Impact Statement regarding the intersection that no government official in Newton could locate. One wonders whether they ever read it! The documents have only very recently (3/28/13) been made available.
Paille represented that he and the one person who works with him do not have the resources to evaluate the project and leave that up to the DOT consultants to carry out. This measure seems to be devoid of a true Newton perspective in this conversation.
Leaders who are also looking to establish the Waban Area Council still wish to pursue a double track: 1)to make certain that vehicle counts are completed before construction begins and as well as at a date to be determined after construction and to create a Memorandum of Understanding between the City and the DOT to carry out these vehicle traffic studies; and 2) to continue to pursue support from State and Congressional legislators as well as to engage Newton representatives to regional planning boards (e.g., the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization).
I am very disappointed that our City leaders have not shouted out their concerns about this project to protect the neighborhoods that will be impacted by this change. The lack of concerned action by our City government makes me wonder if suggesting an airplane runway down Walnut Street would arouse any distress at City Hall!
Route 9 has been treated like Cinderella in the fairy tale. She is still waiting for her Prince Charming.