In the fine print of legal notices on page B4 of the Boston Globe of Saturday, August 25, 2012, there was a piece of good news for Belmont and Watertown: The state has put out to bid the reconstruction of Belmont Street and Trapelo Road.
After over 10 years of discussion in the communities and thousands of hours of hard work by hundreds of people, the state has finally approved the project. By putting it out to bid, the state formally accepts the design and legal work done by the Town of Belmont. Problems can still surface in the bidding and contracting phase. The biggest remaining risk is that the bids come in higher than estimated, but the state Department of Transportation has worked hard to assure that cost expectations for the project are realistic. In fact, MassDOT has recently raised its estimate of project cost to over $16 million, setting off a (successful) scramble to put the extra funds in place for this fiscal year. At this stage, residents of Belmont and Watertown can reasonably expect construction to start early in the 2013 construction season.
The project is the result, first of all, of huge public participation. About 12 years ago, citizens began attending meetings of the Belmont Planning Board to talk about the vision for the Belmont/Trapelo Corridor. The Belmont Traffic Advisory Committee began holding hearings on a conceptual design several years later. The Belmont Citizens Forum contributed a number of valuable ideas to the discussion. Hearings conducted by panels in both Belmont and Watertown have continued over the past few years as specific problems have surfaced.
As the members of the Belmont Board of Selectman have changed through the years in Belmont, the board, as an institution, has stayed the course on the project, continuing to fund design work and working to solve problem after problem. Behind them has been the Town Engineer, Glenn Clancey, supported by the consulting engineers of the BSC Group. The leadership of neighboring Watertown has also contributed heavily to the success of the project.
Congressman Markey’s office gave the project a boost by securing a federal earmark that contributed design funds for the project — the Town of Belmont had carried all of the design costs and the earmark eased the burden in the home stretch of the project. The earmark also helped give the project credibility with state planners.
The town’s hard work, improved by community input, led to an excellent project design. The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization, which manages the pot of federal and state money to be spent on transportation projects in the region, has a list of pending road projects that vastly outstrips its available funds. The MPO made a decision to use an objective third-party rating process to help them prioritize those projects in the summer of 2011. The Belmont/Trapelo project rose to the very top of that list, based on the design’s attention to the needs of motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and public transportation — and based on the sheer need for the project and its value for community development. As a result, the Boston MPO incorporated the project into its Fiscal 2012 Transportation Improvement Plan. Previously, the project had been scheduled to be addressed in 2015.
This planning decision gave the Town a huge opportunity and also created a tight timeline for completion of all remaining work on the project design. MassDOT appointed a project manager to support the town and bring all the remaining pieces together. The hardest part of a project like this is securing the right of way. The roadway was built to accommodate street cars, so it is very broad. To accommodate the bike lanes in the design, the town needed only to acquire a couple of small slices near the intersections in Waverly Square. But just to do the sidewalk work along the corridor — which might mean stepping on the lawns of property owners along the corridor — federal rules required the Town to secure permissions from essentially all the owners. Although most owners were cooperative, reaching all of them was a herculean task for the Belmont Town Engineer. Watertown officials stepped in to play a key role at this stage, helping to secure the last few necessary approvals.
So, this is a good news story about people working together to get things done — two communities working together, elected officials and staff working together, federal, state and local government working together and citizens getting deeply involved at every stage.
Visit the Town of Belmont’s site to see design details (some of which have evolved in the final project). Or, visit MassDOT’s website to check on project status — with design and right-of-way complete, the project is now under MassDOT control.