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Updated Plan for I-95/Route 128 Discussed

Officials and residents from Wellesley, Needham and Newton gathered Wednesday night for a public hearing on the highway improvement project, tentatively set to begin in 2013.

Town officials and residents of Needham and Wellesley heard the latest plans for improving I-95/I-93/Route 128 Wednesday night, including a new interchange at Kendrick Street in Needham, wider lanes and areas designated for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and from agencies hired to design the plans held a public hearing at n Needham, soliciting final input about the proposed improvements to I-95/I-93/Route 128 before completing the proposal and moving into the next stage. About 30 people attended the hearing, including town officials from Needham, Wellesley and Newton and several residents.

Larry Cash, project manager for MassDOT, said the design was expected to be completed by fall 2012, with construction to begin in 2013. Work is expected to take four to four-and-a-half years.

The project will be mostly funded—about $125 million, or about 80 percent—by the Federal Highway Administration, with the commonwealth footing the remaining 20 percent of the bill, Cash said.

Darren Conboy, project manager for the consultant team from Jacobs Engineering, described the plan as “the last remaining piece of the overall I-95 project," most of which is underway to the south of Needham.

The new work will stretch about 3.5 miles from just north of Great Plain Avenue in Needham (exit 18) to just north of Route 9 in Wellesley (exits 20A and 20B).

“The purpose [of the interstate improvement project] is to restore the breakdown lane, to add an additional lane to the median, to add a full shoulder to the median to make it safer and to restore the shoulder back to its original use and not allow for active travel during the peak periods,” Conboy explained.

The project is also meant to make entrance and exit ramps safer and to replace obsolete and “structurally deficient” bridges while also accommodating for pedestrians and bicyclists with wide shoulders and added sidewalks, he added.

The current proposal includes a new interchange at Kendrick Street in Needham and for new “distributor” roads paralleling the highway in each direction between Highland Avenue and Kendrick Street, which should help make it easier and safer for drivers to weave between the two interchanges, according to Conboy.

“The demand for growth in the office parks and also just the existing congestion really dictated that there needed to be another interchange to feed this area,” Conboy said of the proposed Kendrick Street exit.

The new interchange will be designed so that drivers heading north on I-95/I-93/Route 128 can exit onto the ramp and only make a right turn toward Newton or the industrial park area; they will not be allowed to turn left toward Needham at that exit. Drivers heading southbound on the highway will be able to exit before Highland Avenue and take the ramp to Kendrick Street, turning either left or right.

Kendrick Street will be widened to five lanes, plus shoulders and sidewalks on both sides, increasing from about 48 feet wide to about 90 feet, Conboy said.

With neighborhood approval, a noise barrier will be placed a little south of Kendrick Street up to Highland Avenue, Conboy added.

The Highland Avenue exit in Needham will be shifted slightly to the south to accommodate a reconstructed bridge over I-95/I-93/Route 128, with Highland Avenue in that area being widened from four lanes to six, Conboy said.

An existing railway bridge currently out of service will be removed and the foundation will be laid for a future bridge, whether for MBTA purposes or pedestrian or bicycle traffic, Conboy said.

Between Highland Avenue and Route 9 there will be five travel lanes on the highway, allowing for drivers to more safely maneuver from the Highland Avenue exit to Route 9 without slowing down thru traffic. Again, noise barriers will be placed on the southbound side of I-95/I-93/Route 128 from the Route 9 interchange down to Crawford Street and on the northbound side along the off ramp to Route 9, Conboy said.

During and after construction, two loops of the clover-leaf-shaped interchange at Route 9 in Wellesley will be eliminated—the Route 9 westbound to I-95 southbound loop and the Route 9 eastbound to I-95 northbound loop. These two ramps were determined to be the lowest-volume ramps, and movement in those directions will be facilitated instead with dual left-turn lanes to be constructed on Route 9 connecting to the two remaining ramps, Conboy said.

The project also includes improvements to the following local bridges:

• Kendrick Street over I-95/Route 128, Needham: Will be widened from three lanes to five, with shoulders and sidewalks added

• Highland Avenue over I-95/Route 128, Needham: Two separate bridges divided by a gap will be replaced by one large bridge, with the new bridge to include six lanes, shoulders and sidewalks on both sides.

• MBTA Newton Upper Falls Branch Railroad over I-95/Route 128, Needham: Will be removed and a foundation set for a future bridge, once the intended use is determined.

I-95/Route 128 over Central Avenue, Needham: As both bridges (separated by a gap) are eligible for historical designation, they will be renovated to keep with that style, but will be combined into one bridge.

I-95/Route 128 over Route 9, Wellesley: Two bridges will be replaced by one wider bridge, with the roadway shifted slight to the east to accommodate the bridge.

Conboy said throughout construction four lanes of traffic will be maintained on I-95/I-93/Route 128 and that there would not be any major detours through side roads.

Though the project focuses on interchanges in Needham and Wellesley, several officials from Newton spoke at the hearing, concerned about how traffic problems might increase during and after construction on their roadways—in particular, Nahanton Street, which runs into Kendrick, and Needham Street, which runs into Highland Avenue.

Bob Rooney, a Needham resident and chief financial officer for the city of Netwon, said officials had already been eying the intersection at Nahanton and Dedham streets, which was “now at its critical point” and that the new interchange “may push it over the top.”

Four different Newton city officials stood up to express related concerns about how the project might impact local traffic, including Rooney, Alderman Cheryl Lappin, Alderman-at-Large Deb Crossley and Associate City Engineer Clint Schuckel.

Needham Selectman Moe Handel and Police Chief Tom Leary also spoke at the hearing.

Leary recommended that the speed on I-95/I-93/Route 128 be kept as low as possible—it currently is set at 55 miles per hour—saying high speed was responsible for a significant number of motor vehicle crashes. He also asked that developers make sure that the access roads running between Kendrick Street and Highland Avenue are clearly marked so that police can quickly identify accident sites and respond.

A few Needham residents, including Lou Picariello of St. Mary Street and Sharon Theall of Greendale Avenue also spoke—Picariello asking whether noise barriers could be set up before construction begins (most likely, if they won’t impede work, officials said) and Theall expressing concerns about increased traffic on Greendale Avenue.

“I’m encouraged by ultimately what the project will do for Greendale Avenue in eliminating all that traffic with people coming out of the industrial center and trying to hop onto Route 128, but they still travel up Greendale Avenue and get on at Great Plain Avenue near St. Sebastian School,” Theall said after the hearing. “I’m more concerned, however, about how it will look for the next four-and-a-half years during construction. It’s still two years before it starts.”

Theall also was concerned about people using her street to avoid construction.

“That’s a little disconcerting to hear how much traffic’s going to really be driven up Greendale Avenue because they’re going to be avoiding the Highland Avenue on-ramp,” she said. “I think they’ve done an enormous amount of work and a great job of planning. Some of it is just living with construction.”

Leary said he thought the weather conditions, school events and the Bruins game Wednesday night may have prevented many residents from showing up to the hearing but that he was glad that citizens had the chance.

“We had a couple of comments and hopefully they’ll take them into consideration,” Leary said. “I think any major public project needs to have a lot of opportunity for the public to provide input.”

Citizens have until June 16 to have their comments submitted into the public record. Comments should include the citizen’s full name and address and organization, if applicable, and should be identified with the following heading:

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts 
Massachusetts Department of Transportation 
Highway Division 
Federal Aid Project 
Needham and Wellesley, MA

I-95/93 (Route 128) Transportation Improvement Project  Bridge V Contract  Project File No. 603711

Comments should be mailed within 10 days of the public hearing (by June 16) to: Thomas J. Broderick, P.E., Acting Engineer; MassDOT, Highway Division; 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116-3973; attn: Project Management.

“There’s some maneuverability when it’s at the 25 percent design stage,” explained Needham Department of Public Works Director Richard Merson. “They’ll take all these comments and they’ll go back, review them, analyze and provide answers to them and then incorporate what they feel is appropriate and necessary into any design changes.”

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