After hearing from a packed house of residents, the Board of Selectmen unanimously decided on Tuesday night not to pursue state funding for a Main Street construction project.
Initial concepts for the project, extending from Depot Street to Tadmuck Road, were discussed as a combined effort of the Water Department, Highway Department and Engineering Department as part of an effort to replace a nearly 100-year-old water main in the area.
With the replacement of the water main, new roads would also simultaneously be built to avoid needless extra projects, although guidance was needed from the Selectmen on whether the town should pursue transportation improvement project (TIP) funding from the state.
According to Westford Town Engineer Paul Starratt, TIP funding could defray some costs of the project from Westford taxpayers, but would come with requirements, most notably bike lanes, which have become almost mandatory for most state road projects.
However, bike lanes were just one problem seen by residents in the area with accepting state funding.
With the bike lanes specifically, concerns ranged from steep slopes that would be dangerous for increased numbers of bicyclists to portions of front yards that would likely need to be taken, in addition to others.
Several Main Street residents testified to the Selectmen about other concerns ranging from sidewalks that could have the same impact as the bike lanes in some areas to the potential impact to rural and historical aesthetics of neighborhood.
In particular, there was a concern that a historical sheep crossing that goes under the road would likely be destroyed by the proposed project.
Bruce Dorn of 4 Leland Rd. was one of many residents who saw likely “one-size-fits-all” impositions that would come with state funding would be inappropriate.
“I think the fixation of the state to accommodate bicycles, well placed though it is, doesn’t distinguish between a place like Somerville and a town like Westford,” said Dorn. “Somerville is not Westford. Different rules apply, and if they don’t, I don’t think we should accept their terms.”
While TIP funding could be pursued in a plan eschewing bike lanes, Staratt believed such a plan would almost certainly be turned down by state authorities.
“They’re radical people and they have radical opinions about bike lanes,” said Staratt.
A concept plan with a sidewalk on one side of the street and bike lanes was estimated at approximately $4 million, with another plan putting sidewalks on both sides of the street along with bike lanes was estimated at approximately $4.5 million, although the Massachusetts Department of Transportation would have provided the majority of funding in either of the projects.
The concept that was accepted, which would rely on town funding only and would not need bike lanes and could avoid sidewalks if needed, is estimated at $3 million.
Construction on the TIP plans would have begun no earlier than Spring 2020, with the accepted plan likely to begin construction in 2016 or 2017.