A-Town to Feds: We really, really want it

Senator Donnelly warns "we will lose this project" to other communities if we do not act this year.

Senator Donnelly warns “we will lose this project” to other communities if Arlington does not act this year. Also shown at right: Arlington Selectman Joe Curro.

Amidst warnings that Arlington stands to lose more than $5 million in highway funds, a lively public hearing broadly endorsed the Mass. Ave. project by a margin of  nearly 4 to 1, extending a trend of growing support for the plan over time.

The hearing was convened by MassDOT at the request of the Federal Highway Administration, which however was not present.

The crowd, though slightly thinner than the turnout for a similar hearing two years ago, still spilled into the galleries.

The first speaker following presentations from state officials and the project engineers was Senator Kenneth Donnelly, who said that if the project does not move forward Arlington would lose funding for the project to other communities.

Donnelly’s warning was cheered by opponents of the project.

Later, Alan Jones, a member of Arlington’s Finance Committee, spelled out what that would mean: a debt exclusion and a tax hike.

Kevin Greeley, chair of the Board of Selectmen speaking on their behalf, echoed Donnelly’s warning and made an upbeat endorsement of the new design.

He said that no design could please everyone, but that the Mass. Ave. plan had met as many concerns as possible and should proceed.

By my informal count, of 66 speakers, 49 supported and 13 opposed the Mass. Ave. Project.

Many comments specifically addressed the issue of lane configuration, with opponents championing a 4-lane design that MassDOT has said is unsafe and would fail to qualify for funding.

HearingCrowd

The view from the back of the hall just before the start of the hearing.

In contrast to the 2011 hearing, all speakers had 3 minutes and everyone who wanted was able to testify.

Attempts by opponents to claim more time for their remarks were gently but firmly deflected.

A defiant Eric Berger declared that he had lengthy comments and would not leave the microphone until he was done. However, when his time was up the audience spontaneously interrupted him with loud applause.

Visibly angry, Berger yielded the microphone to the next speaker.

Safety was the number-one concern of supporters.

Two women, speaking separately, described collisions with cars at the Grafton St. crosswalk, by Sabatino’s. One was struck while crossing and the other was escorting a child who was struck. Neither crash caused life-threatening injuries.

The new design calls for a pedestrian island and other improvements to that crosswalk.

Opponents expressed skepticism over traffic counts showing that the 3-lane design, two eastbound and one westbound, will accommodate peak traffic. Several accused the Town of formulating the design in secret.

The crowd melted as the hearing progressed to its conclusion at 10:35 pm.

The Mass. Ave. project is awaiting final state and federal approvals and is scheduled to go out to bid on June 1. According to Marie Rose of MassDOT, it is expected to be finished “in two years.”

Arlington Patch has a pretty good summing up today. Update: YourArlington.com has a brief report, and (further update) Boston.Com has this account. Further Still: Here’s the Arlington Advocate’s take, curiously kind to opponents though quite factual.

My speakers count is informal and probably off by a few people, but not by much. Some of the people who professed neutrality probably had opinions that could have been inferred from their remarks, but I took them at their word.

At this writing, Arlington Patch counts 50 in favor versus 15 opposed, and an email this morning from a jubilant East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition puts the count at 47-17.

In any case, as MassDOT says, this is not supposed to be a popularity contest but a hearing. Substantive arguments and evidence are supposed to carry the day.

However, though speakers for and against displayed a familiarity with the design, they limited themselves to more-general and rhetorical statements. No game-changers.

I’m going to throw something out subject to correction. I do not recall hearing anyone who identified him or herself as a parent who opposed the project. And there were many of us.

While we are on the subject of correction, can someone explain something to me?

When she opened the hearing for MassDOT Rose cited a $5.5 million highway grant, 80% from the federal government and 20% from the state.

Senator Donnelly however referred to $6.8 million in federal and sate funding. Can anyone account for the difference?

As in the 2011 hearing, business owners in favor outnumbered those against.

The Federal Highway Administration, which requested this hearing and whose recalcitrance led to a 3-month delay in starting the project, did not send a representative.

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10 comments so far

  1. Bob Sprague on

    For this story — http://www.yourarlington.com/home/development/5592-mass-ave-22713 — I kept a careful count. There might be disagreement about those in the unclear column. More will be reported.

    Bob Sprague

    • Adam Auster on

      Thanks, Bob. I don’t claim to be 100% spot on, just in the ballpark.

  2. dr2chase on

    6.8 x .8 = 5.44. Could be a 5.5 million federal highway grant, coupled with a 1.3 million state grant, summing to 6.8. In round numbers, 80% federal, 20% state.

    • Adam Auster on

      I hadn’t noticed that, dr, good catch.

      However, MassDOT’s Marie Rose did not describe it that way, though maybe she misspoke.

  3. Bob Sprague on

    A more complete story with photos has been published. See http://www.yourarlington.com/home/development/5592-mass-ave-22713

  4. Steve Cella on

    Adam,

    A nice summary…..I don’t think anyone is going to quibble over the exact numbers…what you have reflects the sentiment of those who actually spoke. It would be interesting to see how the written comments break out.

    In any case I think I heard that some one from the Feds was in attendance but did not speak…..which is really unbelievable to me. They were the ones who called the meeting and out of everyone who spoke they were the ones we should have heard from and see what they had to say and what their concerns were…that is have someone say it in person!! I don’t get that..

    • Adam Auster on

      Steve, I don’t know about anyone from Federal Highway being covertly present. I do know that they were invited.

  5. Gordon Jamieson on

    .. didn’t you mean .. Donneley’s warning was cheered by the *proponents* of the project?

    • Adam Auster on

      Emphatically NO, Gordon.

      Donnelly warned we could lose the money, and opponents cheered.

  6. bobsprague1943 on

    YourArlington’s summary of this hearing, which was published last Wednesday, but hidden until Sunday because of site issues, now includes links to opinions by Eric Berger and Maria Romano. See http://bit.ly/Y8J9Xg

    Bob Sprague


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