HADLEY — A major sidewalk project could begin in four Hampshire County communities later this year, providing pedestrian passage along heavily commuted and busy commercial thoroughfares on Routes 9, 5 and 10.
The approximately $2.6 million project, funded largely by federal dollars, is scheduled to go out to bid in August, with the earliest construction start in November, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the project.
Plans call for constructing new sidewalks and wheelchair ramps, as well as improvements to crosswalks, signs and driveway reconstruction in Hadley, Amherst, Northampton and Southampton. The largest section of the project is in Hadley and Amherst, where a new sidewalk is planned from South Maple Street at the Hampshire Mall to Snell Street in Amherst along the south side of Route 9. Along the north side of that stretch, a new sidewalk will be built from Route 116 to University Drive.
Traffic disruption is expected to be minimal because the majority of the work will be off the road, said MassDOT spokesman Michael Verseckes.
The project is unlikely to need Planning Board approval, but goes before Hadley’s Conservation Commission March 11 for a public hearing at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
“It will probably not come to the Planning Board because Route 9 in Hadley is owned by the state and they are functionally exempt from zoning,” said William E. Dwyer, a member and clerk of Hadley’s Planning Board. “They are not exempt from the Wetlands Act.”
Dwyer said there is known foot traffic along the south side of Route 9 from the mall toward Amherst, though not an extraordinary amount of pedestrians.
“It’s obviously a large investment,” Dwyer said of the new sidewalks. “I think the biggest question is, how is it going to be maintained?”
Apart from sidewalks associated with movable bridges, MassDOT policies do not include provisions for maintenance and snow removal from the majority of sidewalks that extend along highways and bridges under its jurisdiction, according to the state agency.
“Historically, sidewalks have been installed along state highways in conjunction with roadway reconstruction projects if requested by a community,” Verseckes wrote in an email to the Gazette. “As part of the installation of sidewalks, MassDOT typically requires the community to undertake future maintenance, including snow removal.”
Verseckes added that since snow removal from sidewalks requires specialized equipment, “it is typically more efficient and cost effective for communities to remove snow from those sidewalks adjacent to state highways as part of their overall sidewalk snow removal operation.”
In addition, he said MassDOT makes every effort to work with municipalities so that snow removed from roadways is not pushed onto a sidewalk that has already been cleared.
The project in Northampton involves a new sidewalk along the west side of Routes 5 and 10 from Bridge Road to Pine Brook Curve, a project Northampton City Planner Wayne M. Feiden described as a “long time in coming.”
“It’s really necessary,” Feiden said. “There are a lot of people who walk that.”
Feiden said the new sidewalks fit into the city’s long-range plans to provide pedestrian access from Hatfield Street near the shopping center anchored by the Big Y supermarket and Wal-Mart to the city’s downtown. He said it also remains to be seen how the state plans to address maintenance and plowing of the new sidewalks, though the city supports the project even if the new sidewalks remain covered in snow at times.
“I hope they do clear them, but there’s still nine months of the year where there is dramatically improved pedestrian safety,” he said.
In Southampton’s center, MassDOT plans to install a section of sidewalk along Route 10 from the fire station to the gas station just north of Clark Street, which is also coming before the town’s Conservation Commission for review soon. The project is one of two state sidewalk projects in the works in the town’s center.
“They’re going to make the town a little more pedestrian-friendly,” said Randall E. Kemp, Southampton’s new highway superintendent.
In addition to the three Hampshire County towns, the state also plans to install new sidewalks in West Brookfield as part of the approximately $2.6 million job.
Dan Crowley can be reached at email@example.com.