How to deal with Greenfield Road?

Opinions differ on fixes for dangerous conditions

Recorder/Paul Franz
A car moves along the narrow, bumpy curves of Greenfield Road in Montague.

Recorder/Paul Franz A car moves along the narrow, bumpy curves of Greenfield Road in Montague.

MONTAGUE — That Greenfield Road pavement is in abysmal shape and fairly dangerous doesn’t seem to be in dispute, but most aspects of how or whether to address the situation are.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has a plan — there has been some version of a plan since the 1980s — and money lined up for it, 80 percent federal and 20 percent state.

DOT officials and the town’s engineering consultants recently lined up to present the details of the plan and field comments from a meeting room filled with Greenfield Road residents, some in favor of any effort to improve the road, others deeply opposed to the details.

Greenfield Road connected Montague Center and Montague City, near Greenfield, until the bridge over the railway about midway along the road became unstable in 1999 and the effort to fix it bogged down the following year as the DOT and Guilford Railroad Systems disagreed over the height of the replacement, then again in 2003 as the town and railroad disagreed over drainage.

A fully functional bridge is now off the table. The current project under discussion would rebuild the road from the area of the bike path and sewage treatment plant, past Randall Road to end just short of Hatchery Road. A later phase of the project would give Hatchery Road the same treatment, and the bridge would be reconstructed for the benefit of bicyclists, pedestrians and emergency vehicles only in 2015.

John Reynolds, a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, asked why the state can’t put up a bridge open to regular traffic, or a graded crossing, if they plan to build a bridge that will support cyclists and fire engines.

DOT engineer Richard Massey said if they build a full bridge they will have to fix the other half of Greenfield Road and don’t want to put in a highway bridge to serve less than two thousand cars a day with the Turners Falls Road bridge nearby.

Possibly beginning in the fall of 2014 or spring of 2015, the $5.8 million reconstruction of Greenfield Road as presented by the engineers would follow the existing footprint, widening lanes and shoulders and cutting through a slope inside a curve south of Randall Road to provide a clear line of sight for drivers at a dangerous intersection.

Mark Elder, senior engineer with town engineering consultants Greenman-Pederson Inc., said the project will replace four culverts, build three retaining walls and rebuild the road with 11- and 10-foot-wide lanes and 4-foot shoulders to accommodate bicyclists. The lanes are currently 9 to 11 feet wide with 1-foot shoulders.

Planners said the plan is to follow the current track, rather than straightening certain sections, because the road is hemmed in by land in the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction program.

“I thought as a state organization you could work something out with another state organization,” Reynolds said.

Massey said the DOT had tried, but land may only be removed from the protected APR status if the change yields substantial benefit to the agricultural resources of the state. “It’s almost impossible,” Massey said.

One state official said pursuing that avenue would kill the project. Delaying the project — a suggestion of another ZBA member, John Burek — would end up with the same result.

“Maybe it’s time to kill it and we’ll get a better one,” Burek said.

Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio said the project has existed in several iterations since 1980 and every time the project has to be redesigned, it draws away Chapter 90 state aid money that would otherwise go to road work elsewhere in town.

The Dowd and Rewa family, which owns the land inside the curve where the slope would be leveled to a certain distance from the road and the remainder shored up with a retaining wall, objected to the plan.

Timothy Dowd said the entire hill is made of sand and worried about the potential for damage to the house if the land shifts in digging or the wall doesn’t hold. Sandy Dowd added the time sewer access will be cut off during construction of the wall to the concerns.

Timothy Dowd said the family found out about the project from a Verizon telephone company worker planning out pole relocations for the project. “That’s how we found out, when a Verizon guy came up and said ‘where can we put this pole?’” Dowd said. “We found out about this after you guys doodled up your little plan.”

Massey said the plan involves only temporary easements during construction, rather than permanent land taking, later adding the family might prefer a permanent easement to avoid responsibility for maintaining the wall.

Karen Axtell of the DOT right-of-way section said property owners would be entitled to compensation for the temporary easements, if they do not choose to donate the rights.

Massey said part of the process of acquiring property rights is dealing with the individual property owners, work to be done by the town. The latest special town meeting authorized the Board of Selectmen to acquire permanent or temporary easements for the project by purchase, gift or eminent domain.

Other concerns included the possibility that a smoother road would be more dangerous because it would encourage speeding, and the impact of a small road expansion on small properties.

Resident Diana Souza said the expansion will leave her with shallower frontage, and similarly affect 13 other houses.

“A taking of 2 feet when you have less than 25 feet is a lot,” Souza said.

Opinion seemed evenly split on the project, with roughly a third speaking in support, a third opposed and a third not speaking.

Recently elected selectman and Greenfield Road resident Michael Nelson said a family member’s serious accident on the road left him convinced improvements were necessary.

Police Chief Charles “Chip” Dodge III also supported the project, in particular the Randall Road intersection change, for which he apologized to the Rewa family.

Dodge said he passes through often and it is necessary to accelerate hard out of the blind intersection to be safe. “I support the project; safety is my priority and that’s what the project represents,” Dodge said.

Peter Hudyma of 82 Greenfield Road said he was happy to donate land. “If we all give a little bit we get a lot back,” Hudyma said, saying the safety benefit of clear sight lines and a shoulder for cyclists and walkers is obvious for a road on which drivers already speed regardless of its current condition.

Paul Voiland, who owns farmland on the road, said he routinely bicycles, runs and drives on the road and called it not only unsafe but an embarrassment in its current condition.

Project planners agreed to look into the possibility of straightening a section of road north of Randall Road rather than cutting into the Dowd property if, as the Dowds and Rewas said, the land is not APR protected.

“No one’s against having the road fixed, it’s just the way it’s done,” said Andrew Rewa Jr.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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