August 6, 2014
By Nancy Arsenault
Last October’s Special Town Meeting approved $125,000 to create final design and construction plans to improve the pedestrian and vehicular travel and safety in Lower Village. “Those plans are now shovel-ready,” said Town Planner Karen Kelleher. That “shovel-ready” designation means that the construction can begin – as soon as funding and a contractor is found.
Kelleher said that Stow is looking to apply for Massachusetts Department of Transportation grants by the end of August; grants that could potentially pay all of the costs of $1m project. The first step toward that application will be a public forum on August 13 at 7pm at Town Hall to present the final plan to residents, business owners and direct abutters. The engineering consultants who created the final designs for the Lower Village commercial area, will discuss the solutions chosen to mitigate traffic congestion, circulation issues and safety, said Assistant Planner Jesse Steadman. Planning Department staff will share the results of this past year’s Visual Preference Survey to discuss how new zoning and design efforts can boost economic potential in Lower Village.
Years ago, there was talk of creating a roundabout to encourage the constant flow of traffic at the eastern end of the area on Rt. 117 and also a short discussion considering installation of a traffic light and other options to ease traffic congestion. Today, the plan consists of traffic islands to slow traffic and encourage pedestrian use, additional curb cuts and well-marked crosswalks, as well as a designated bicycle lane.
Over the past few years, drivers and pedestrians have become accustomed to the temporary traffic islands along Rt. 117 in front of the Plaza. These islands were monitored as to their effectiveness on slowing the speed of traffic while not impeding its flow. They also introduced a safe refuge for pedestrians crossing Rt. 117, which was not available before the islands.
According to Kelleher, and accident statistics gathered by Stow Police, those islands make a difference, and will now be made permanent. The road will be slightly widened to allow for the larger center island in the vicinity of the plaza. Curb cuts will also be relocated in some places, to increase ease of egress and exit from the larger parking lots.
A bicycle lane, designated by a thick painted white line and bicycle image marking, will extend the length of the Lower Village, from Pompositticutt Street at the east end to Deerfield/Bradley Lane at the western end. “The markings will make the bike lane more visible and remind drivers they are sharing the road with cyclists,” said Steadman. More clearly defined crosswalks will encourage safer pedestrian access to the Lower Village shops, and nearby conservation land, added Kelleher.
The Planning Board is hoping to submit a grant application before the end of August, the deadline to be considered for the upcoming round of funding. If the Town is awarded a construction grant, Kelleher said that bids from qualified contractors could be received in time for work to commence in the spring. The project also includes grading and drainage upgrades to the roadway.
Kelleher said while many municipalities hope for grants, it is not just having a project “ready to go” that earns high marks. “They will see that the Town of Stow has done their homework. They are looking to see how a project like this fits into a Master Plan or a plan for that specific area overall. They will see that we have a mixed use development in Meeting House and Faxon Farm there,” she said of the residential units within walking distance of retail shops, dentist offices, restaurants and the Post Office.
She also said that the work Stow has been doing with state government to identify a source of water for Lower Village businesses is also looked upon favorably. Recently, the state approved a well site location off Heritage Lane, on town property. “Representative Kate Hogan has already started working with the businesses and the DEP to get things moving,” she said. Once water is available to these businesses and expansion is an option, traffic in the area will grow as the businesses grow, she said. “If this all comes together for the grant and we get approved, things will start happening fast.”