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City plans major overhaul of Western Avenue

Date: 12/5/2012

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — The city recently unveiled plans at a public informational meeting of a Western Avenue construction project, which will encompass the section from Mill Street to Bates Road, to accommodate the growth of Western State University (WSU) and to provide needed upkeep to the road.

Improvements such as the addition of center turn lanes, raised median islands, landscaping and streetscaping, were some of the enhancements City Engineer Mark Cressotti listed.

According to Cressotti, the project is in its beginning design stages. While he expects the project to begin in early 2014, he estimated that the underground utility work needed in preparation for the project, would begin towards the end of 2013.

Cressotti explained the intentions of the improvements. "We want to employ calming traffic measures, adding variety and interest to the roadway, while minimizing the impact to the corridor," he said.

At a recent information session, residents contributed their own ideas for the project. "We received some interesting suggestions at the public meeting," Cressotti said. "We are investigating some of the initiatives brought forth by the residents."

He cited the possibility of creating a bike trail, wide enough for the use of pedestrians and cyclists, out of the south sidewalk [Stanley Park side of the avenue] as one of those ideas.

"I was so happy — it was very heartening to see that so many residents cared," Ward 4 City Councilor Mary O'Connell said of the community attendance at the meeting.

A road study conducted by the Police Department from Nov. 26 to Nov. 28, surveyed the area of Western Avenue between Highland Avenue and Lloyds Hill Road. Over the 48-hour period, 14,321 vehicles were recorded, 64 percent of which were within the 40 mph speed limit, 28 percent were within five miles over the speed limit and 8 percent were speeding.

"As it appears today, Western Avenue has degraded and is not reflective of the once prominent avenue it once was," Mayor Daniel Knapik said. "We need to accommodate the growth of WSU and provide a safe route for pedestrians, cyclists and automobiles to share."

O'Connell agreed that work is needed in the area, but doesn't wholly support the project. "I appreciate the re-paving and the infrastructure improvements, but I really think traffic islands, widening of the roads and most of all, WSU's plan to add 500 parking spots to its commuter lot detrimental to the surrounding community."

She added, "This project is university-driven. It's a fine balance — I think they've [WSU] has reached its saturation point at the current location."

Two and a half million dollars in state funding is accessible for the above ground portion of the work. "The city is fortunate to have these funds available. We want to make use of them to fix the deficiencies that exist," Cressotti added.

The mayor noted that $2 million dollars of the funds available is from WSU because of money redirected from their budget from a previous road project. He added that these funds have to be spent within the college's footprint.

Ward 3 City Councilor Ann Callahan was unavailable for comment.