WILMINGTON, MA — Last week, the Wilmington Board of Selectmen unanimously endorsed a plan to improve the intersection at Lowell Street (Route 129) and Woburn Street.
The project managers — Town Engineer Paul Alunni and Planning Director Valerie Gingrich — along with the project consultant, TEC, were in front of the board seeking its support in order to move the process forward and apply for state and federal funding.
“This is a heavily trafficked roadway corridor. 30,000 cars every weekday rely on this intersection. It’s one of our busier intersections in town,” said Alunni. “Surrounding the intersection is commercial development built out around three corners and a vacant lot with a project in front of the Planning Board for mixed use.”
The project managers highlighted several of the intersection’s current challenges:
- High volume of traffic
- Lack of turn lanes
- High crash rate
- Low signal visibility
“The single lane in all 4 directions results in longer queue time, but my biggest concern is safety. This intersection has one of the higher crash rates in town and is well above the stage average,” said Alunni. “We’re seeing one crash a month there.”
“There’s no overhead lights at this intersection — it’s the only intersection in town like it. There’s only pedestrian level lights,” noted the consultant. “There’s a lack of ADA/AAB compliance for accessible ramps…. The head-in parking and backing into Lowell Street is also an issue.”
The consultant summarized several of the project’s goals:
- Improve transportation safety (61 crashes in past 5 years)
- Improve traffic control visibility
- Reduce vehicular delays, which results in driver frustration and contributes to accidents
- Upgrade multi-modal features (e.g., pedestrian and bike accommodations)
- Address accessibility issues
- Evaluate opportunities to improve or consolidate business driveways
The project calls for left-turn only lanes on all FOUR approaches, a right-turn only lane eastbound on Lowell Street, new OVERHEAD traffic signals, new sidewalks, new crosswalks, new ADA ramps, and new bike lanes.
The project already has several positive things going for it — it can be done with no takings; there will be no impacts to wetland resource areas; and the project is ready to begin once approvals and funding are in place. Field surveys along the roadway limits have already been completed, as has a road safety audit with town departments. Portions of the project have already been submitted to MassDOT. Documentation has been submitted to Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization for TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) scoring.
The project’s design costs — $200,000 — will be covered by the Planning Board’s traffic meditation funds. (These funds came from the recent FedEx project on Ballardvale Street and the upcoming Analog Devices expansion.)
The project is expected to cost an estimated $3.4 million. The town is looking both at the federal level (through the Transportation Improvement Program/TIP) and at the state level (MassWorks Economic Development Grants) for funding. On the federal track, the project would be funded and constructed as far out as 2024. The state track would likely be much quicker.
Next steps in the process include advance design, as well as review impacts related to widening and options for traffic control. The project’s team will continue to coordinate with utility companies and adjacent property owners. A 25% design submission is expected to be complete in early 2019.
“Thank you to whoever thought of being proactive here as this is one of the worst intersections in town. The area around it is getting developed tremendously,” said Selectman Ed Loud. “But this might not happen for another 5 years? That’s another 60 accidents. That’s pretty unacceptable. There’s got to be a better way of getting this F-rated intersection done at a quicker pace.”
“We can go to full design a lot quicker than some other projects,” responded Planning Director Valerie Gingrich. “It’s possible we can get to full design quickly and if a project falls off of the TIP list, we may be able to take that spot because we’re ready to go.”
“This is the worst intersection in the community. It’s daily traffic has doubled from 15,000 to 30,000 over the past 30 years… It’s sad to hear it’s going to take 5 years for this project to happen,” said Selectman Mike McCoy. “I hope the condos being developed [at this intersection] would contribute something to this project.”
“I’m pleased to see you’re seeking state and federal funding for this project,” said Selectman Greg Bendel. “I look forward to reaching out to our delegation to help out with MassWorks. I think this is a much needed project, especially with the uncertain future surrounding the nearby Textron property. Textron has made indications they’re going to be around for another 1-1.5 years. Hopefully this project will alleviate any new businesses that move in there.”
In response to a question from Town Manager Jeff Hull, the project consultant assured him that the intersection is accounting for future projects in the area. Alunni noted the opening of the Boston Road Bridge in Woburn will certainly have an impact on traffic in the area, as may whatever is eventually proposed for the old Walpole Woodworkers site on Lowell Street.
Selectmen Kevin Caira and Mike McCoy expressed initial concern over the positioning of the bike lane in the project.
“Riding bikes in the middle of two lanes is crazy!” said McCoy. “Someone is going to get killed there.”
Gingrich responded that MassDOT requires a bike lane.
“That’s how they require it. If you have cars turning right at the intersection, you don’t want vehicles turning into the bike lane,” said Gingrich. “That’s why you want it in between lanes, even though it’s strange looking.”
Selectmen unanimously supported the project. Selectmen also unanimously asked Alunni and Gingrich to explore seeking a waiver on the location of the bike lane. Selectmen did not want to delay the process, however, over the bike lane.
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