Mass. Ave. questions answered — sort of

Question markAt the start of June, when the Town announced a public meeting about the Mass. Ave. plan, I posted a list of five questions I hoped the Town would answer about the project.

The meeting answered some questions at least in part. The fullness of time, and the filing of a final revised design, has shed further light on each of them, as follows.

1) Are the defects that District 4 found in the plan technical or fundamental? (An example of the former might be, More detail needed in the drawings. An example of the latter might be, Arlington must widen Mass. Ave.)

The defects, apparently, were only technical. The engineers had little difficulty answering the issues raised with small changes. This includes concerns that had threatened the light at Foster and Linwood streets and Mass. Ave., which I had pegged as the most serious.

Certainly the basic design elements, such as the number of travel lanes, the width of the corridor, and the bicycle lanes, were never at issue. Even the traversable median seems to be acceptable.

2) What is the status of the signal at Linwood and Foster? How will the Town respond?

The Town continues to keep this traffic signal in its plan (and also the one at Teel and Thorndike).

3) The tone of the staff memos directed to the engineering consultants was harsh. Was this justified?

This is the only outstanding mystery. The tone does not seem to match the narrow criticisms in the staff memos.

My own reading of the tea leaves is that District 4 was upset with the engineers for reasons not fully explained in the comments. So the tone may have been justified, but not based on the reasons given.

Maybe there are some clues to the real issues buried in the massive appendix to the Functional Design Report. I’m not seeing anything in the FDR itself, unless it’s that odd business about widening Lake St. (which the Town elected not to do) on pages 35 – 38.

4) Will the baseline traffic counts taken recently on side streets in East Arlington play any role in the redesign?

No, they will not. But they will be useful to the Town and the neighborhoods going forward.

5) When can we expect a full hearing on the proposal, and when might construction realistically start?

We are probably still looking at a formal hearing by Mass. Highway this winter. Construction could still begin by 2012.

However, filing deadlines have slipped many times, and there isn’t much slack left in the schedule. If the hearing is held back and construction is bumped into the 2013 construction season, look for costs to increase yet again.

Except for No. 3, which remains a bit of a mystery, these questions were mostly answered at the public meeting held at the end of June.

I held off on publishing this column until the whole proposal, including the FDR, was filed, mostly to be able to gauge the changes made in response to the District-4 memos.

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