Council Approves Millions for Easements for Mt. Auburn St. Project, State Still Has Not Released Comments on Plans

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The $30 million Mt. Auburn Street reconstruction project will likely go out to bid at the end of 2023, and the 75 percent plans will soon be submitted. City officials, however, are still waiting for the state to release the public comments from the 25 percent designs submitted back in 2018.

The project will be paid for by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) using federal transportation funding, but the design occurs at the local level, said Watertown Public Works Superintendent Greg St. Louis. The City also has to pay for the easements required to do work on private properties. Tuesday night, the City Council approved a $2.6 million loan order to cover the temporary easements needed to complete the reconstruction of Mt. Auburn Street.

“What that entails is several hundred temporary access easements,” St. Louis said. “Literally it is (needed) to swing a hammer over the imaginary property line to construct a sidewalk, so the Federal government requires you to obtain these permits because they know inherently if you are going to disturb a blade of grass or step on someone’s property to construct a sidewalk they want to make sure that that person is compensated accordingly.”

The Council approved the loan order, but had questions about the project, including when the public will have another chance to comment on the project, and if the Council will have a chance to weigh in on the project again.

St. Louis said the project will not come back before the City Council for approval.

“In my experience, the project doesn’t need to come before the Council for funding requests,” St. Louis said. “It is a state DOT project not a local road project. While we are responsible for the design, MassDOT is very much the project manager of this.”

Councilors Tony Palomba and Lisa Feltner both said they thought there would be more opportunities for public input.

“I am confused as well,” Feltner said. “I thought MassDOT would hold a community meeting, when everyone can ask for updates. They said it’s in the state hand they are going to hold a public meeting and they are going to have a functional design report.”

St. Louis said he expects the State to hold another public meeting, but they don’t need approval from the Council for the design or funding.

“We are trying to get the 25 percent comments posted, so at least people have an answer to their first question, so they aren’t asking the same question again,” he said. “I am hoping it will happen sooner than later.”

The public comments still have not been published, however, St. Louis said.

The 75 percent design incorporates what engineers heard from the public during the 25 percent design process in the summer of 2018. During those public meetings, people expressed concerns about cutting the road from two lanes to one for most of the length of the street, and including bike lanes for long stretches. Officials said that to receive federal funding the project must be designed for all users: motorists, bicyclists, public transportation users, and pedestrians. Another concern was parking for businesses, and how stores in Coolidge Square would unload trucks because they don’t have off-street delivery areas for trucks. (See more details here).

While the 75 percent designs take the comments in mind for the project, St. Louis said the public still does not have access to the comments from the 25 percent stage.

“The DOT’s responses to 25 percent comments, I have reached out several times to get that posted on the website,” St. Louis said. “The DOT controls that document. I’m trying to push to get it released, it is supposed to be released prior to 75 percent submission but there remain some entities in the state that remain to comment on our 25 percent design. The DOT is trying not to release the documents without those individual utilities having not commented.”

Councilor Nicole Gardner asked if the project will go ahead if the utilities do not submit comments. St. Louis said this is a unique situation, but he expects the project to go ahead.

“I am told this is the first time this has happened. Speaking with the assistant chief of engineering they are pushing this forward,” St. Louis said. “There aren’t a lot of $30 million road jobs on the TIP (Transportation Improvement Program). They are pushing this forward without those comments.”

St. Louis said the current schedule is to go to bid in December 2023, and award bids in January 2024. Before that point, the Watertown Department of Public Works has to submit the 100 percent design documents specs and estimates to the state. Those will be finalized in the next 6-9 months, he said.

7 thoughts on “Council Approves Millions for Easements for Mt. Auburn St. Project, State Still Has Not Released Comments on Plans

  1. So with an increasing population in this region and more housing being built every day, we’re narrowing the roads?

    Shouldn’t we be widening the roads instead?

    How many bicyclists use these major roads as opposed to, say, cars? Has anyone ever counted them?

    • The more roads are widened and expanded, the more people will drive and make traffic worse. Read “The Power Broker” about Robert Moses to understand. More cycling and public transit options are the common sense answer.

  2. Rather interesting to go to the “see more details here” part, nothing really about Coolidge Square delivery truck offloading nor parking zones for them. If you are paying attention to these bike lanes, you’ll know that the bike riders want the no parking rule enforced by the Police. So use your imagination to envision where a delivery driver or for that matter anyone else pull over safely out of the travel lanes to drop off someone or pickup, never mind the groceries or such for anyone that lives on the Mt. Auburn St. corridor. The best part of going back the 4 yrs. plus the “details” was written are the comments submitted for the article by actual residents who live on Mt. Auburn St. and live in Town. One stated she laughed when she read this quote “Town staff represents the residents concerns” I also had a good laugh sadly. The other was from a resident that was going to impacted by this project with his safety concerns laid out, I have to wonder if any of the powers that be have reached out to him in the 4 plus years since written? Love to hear the responses! Worse part is that at the present time the City may not have anymore input on this project that will impact everyone one way or another.

  3. This makes the second time in recent memory that our elected officials have been taken in and misled by a state agency. The last time was the boondoggle that was created when Little Greenough Blvd. was shut down for close to a year (for bicyclist’s… of course), and they were under the mistaken belief that certain promises and concessions would be met… which they weren’t, and now history is repeating itself.

    I find it infuriating and a disgrace to the public trust that this seems like a done deal without any further input from residents, business owners, the City Manager and the City Council members.

    Among other things if my memory serves me correctly, was that this project would cost the city little or next to nothing… including police details and overtime. Now we’re being told that we’ve taken out a $2.6m dollar loan to cover easement costs.

    I’m not certain which or what public comment documents are being withheld, but for those who hadn’t attended (or forgotten about), any of the public and City Council meetings (Town Council at the time), I’ve provided the following links for more information…

    • Thanks for the links to the public comments. I believe the comments that have not been published are those from outside utilities and entities that wouldn’t have made a comment at the public meetings. However, I believe none of the comments have been published on the state’s project site.

  4. If we go with a one lane Mt. Auburn St.
    1. Delivery trucks will block traffic.
    2. Snow removal will infringe on one lane.
    3. Residents exiting out of their driveways onto Mt. Auburn will have to wait forever.
    4. Businesses will suffer from removal of parking spaces.
    5. Entering Watertown Square will be even more congested.
    6. How will one lane handle increased traffic?
    Anyone want to add another reason?

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