Watertown officials joined transportation engineers Thursday night to present concepts for two major roadway projects that aim to improve safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.
The public forum, held during a meeting of the Town Council’s Public Works Committee, provided an update on the Mt. Auburn Street reconstruction project as well as early designs for the Common Street improvement project. Residents were given the opportunity to weigh in on goals of the projects and provide feedback on design concepts.
“We are very early in the process of these projects and this is the first of many community meetings we will have,” said Councilor Cecilia Lenk, who chairs the Public Works Committee. “Nothing is set in stone.”
Public Works Superintendent Gerald Mee echoed Lenk’s comments throughout the meeting, emphasizing that there is still a long process of public feedback before any official designs are approved. Town officials were joined by engineers from WorldTech, who presented design concepts for both projects. Representatives from MassDOT, MassHighway, the MBTA and National Grid were also present, as well as many members of the Town Council.
Mt. Auburn Street Reconstruction Project
The Mt. Auburn Street project focuses on intersections east of Common Street. In the design concepts, parts of Mt. Auburn Street would be reduced down to one lane in both directions, with turning lanes added at certain intersections.
This process, called a “road diet,” reduces the number of lanes on a road to provide space for all users, including cyclists, pedestrians and public transit. Mt. Auburn Street was initially identified for a road diet in 2002, but the project was not awarded funding until April of last year.
A few residents shared concerns about the lane reduction, arguing that it would cause more traffic back-up. However, WorldTech Traffic Engineer Michael Pompili explained that feasibility studies show the traffic would actually improve with just one through lane and specific turning lanes. He also noted that the road west of Common Street, heading toward Watertown Square, would stay as four lanes.
In addition to helping traffic flow, Pompili said the road diet project would create more room for bike lanes as well as space for some turn-outs for the 71 bus. With added welcome signage, landscaping, benches, traffic calming measures and shorter crosswalks, Pompili said the overall “perception and context” of Mt. Auburn Street would appear more like a neighborhood road.
Many of the residents at the meeting argued more needed to be done for cyclists and pedestrians, particularly near Hosmer Elementary School. Some suggested the addition of raised and/or lighted sidewalks and protected bike lanes. Several attendees also emphasized the need for improved bus stops that do not block traffic or driveways.
Lenk assured residents that several workshops will be held to allow town officials and residents to “dive deeply into each detail” of the project, including bike lanes, crosswalks, parking and storm-water management.
Common Street Project
The Common Street project, which extends from Mt. Auburn Street to Church and Orchard Streets, aims to improve safety by adjusting several intersections along the stretch of road.
In the early designs presented Thursday, engineers recommended:
- Common Street, Spring Street and Marion Road – A new signal would be added and the current triangle intersection would be removed.
- Columbia Street and Robbins Road – Added curb bump-outs and raised crosswalks.
- Common Street and Katherine Road – Road would be “tightened up” to reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians, vehicle stop lines would be moved back and textured crosswalks added.
- Five-way intersection at Common, Orchard and Church Streets – A single-lane rotary would be added. The rotary would allow speeds to circulate at 15-25 miles per hour.
Most of the discussion Thursday focused on the roundabout at the five-way intersection, an area Pompili referred to as a “free for all” where vehicles frequently speed. Many of the residents applauded the idea for a roundabout and agreed that it would slow down cars coming through the intersection.
Several residents raised concerns about proper bike lanes and signage for the roundabout. However, town officials and engineers reiterated that the project is very early in the process and many features have yet to be added to the design. Similar to the Mt. Auburn Street project, officials plan to hold many community meetings and workshops.
“It’s important that we’re tailoring the project to the needs of the community,” said WorldTech President Rich Benevento.
As for next steps, Pompili said engineers will continue to gather feedback from the community and draw up a preliminary engineering design. Officials will also seek funding for the project through the state’s Chapter 90 Program, which funds road repairs.
Although the presentations were held at the same meeting, the Common Street and Mt. Auburn Street projects will be bid out separately, as the estimated $12.2 million Mt. Auburn Street project will receive federal funds through MassHighway.