Downtown upgrade can move forward

Jan 14, 2020 by

Published in the January 14, 2020 edition.

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — Chairman Edward Dombroski brought some exciting news to last night’s Town Council meeting regarding the planned “Envision Wakefield” downtown revitalization and infrastructure upgrade.

Dombroski said last night that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has performed an initial evaluation of community-input concept plans and has approved the project for advancement. This means that the general framework, safety and design standards were determined by MassDOT to fall within the scope for funding approval.

He noted that the concepts that MassDOT OK’d were based on the community’s “preferred alternative” as developed over a series of public forums on the project. One element of that preferred plan is that it preserves sections of angled parking on Main Street and creates additional parking on Common Street.

At Town Meeting in November 2018, residents voted to conduct a design study as part of the downtown revitalization project. The Town enlisted VHB, a civil-engineering consulting and design firm, to help conceptualize, with input from the community, improved transportation for everyone who travels to or through Wakefield center in cars, on foot, by bus or on bikes. Aesthetic improvements are also part of the plans being presented to MassDOT for state and federal funding.

Voters at the April 2019 Town Meeting approved an additional $390,000 to fund the second phase of the design for this project.

With this positive feedback from MassDOT, Dombroski said, time can now be spent refining designs instead of creating alternate concepts that might not be funded.

MassDOT has estimated funding for the project at $26,382,000. Previous estimates floated publicly have been in the $10 million to $16 million range. Dombroski explained that $16 million is still the base estimate but MassDOT builds in another $10 million in contingencies, MassDOT administration, inflation, utilities relocation and police details.

Other than the initial design costs borne by the town, the entire project, including engineering and construction, will be done with federal highway funds administered through MassDOT’s Highway Division.

Dombroski said that it was notable that MassDOT approved advancement of the project concept as a whole, rather than just certain separate phases or elements of the project. That means that Lake Avenue and Spaulding Street, which were not part of the initial concept, will be included.

He stressed that things like paving, utility work and ADA compliance fixes would need to be done by the town regardless. Now, they can now be included in this project, saving the town a substantial expenditure of funds.

The next steps, Dombroski said, will be to work out more details with additional community input as the town advances through the process and refines the designs. That work will include identifying street configurations, lighting styles, materials, etc.

This continuing process will include multiple community and stakeholder forums, the next of which will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Americal Civic Center.

Over the coming months, the town will have a 10 percent design meeting with VHB Engineering and MassDOT, followed by further community input.

Down the road, Dombroski explained, MassDOT will come out to Wakefield for a 25 percent design public meeting with the community for further discussion and input. That session will be followed by more refinement of the design, based on community feedback.

In the meantime, monthly meetings with Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization (Boston MPO) are ongoing as part of their TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) process. Boston MPO plays a key role in placing projects on the TIP list. The Town Council will be kept up to date and make appropriate votes along the way as needed.

In separate but related news, Dombroski announced that the town has been awarded a $378,571 grant in state funds secured through the MassDOT Complete Streets Program after initially being denied.

These funds will be directed to the Albion Street corridor and will allow the town to accelerate that portion of the downtown revitalization project. Those funds are expected to address a combination of sidewalks, “bump outs,” ADA-compliance and paving on Albion Street. By carving out and accelerating this aspect of Envision Wakefield timeline, Albion Street will serve as a “live model” for remainder of project, Dombroski said. The Albion Street work is expected to take place in the next several months and be completed by the fall of 2020.

The overall timeline for the larger downtown revitalization/infrastructure project will be driven by several factors, Dombroski said, including the town’s project design readiness and project placement on MassDOT’s TIP list.

Further information on the Envision Wakefield project can be found on the town’s web site at wakefield.ma.us/envision-downtown.

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