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February 12, 2008

Ward 3 Residents Express Alarm Over Turn Of Events On I-91 Interchange Preliminary Work

Residents express concerns, agitate, city officials respond. A timeline of recent events.

Feb. 6 - Sydney Stern and Frank Werbinski, property owners whose home is slated to be demolished [UPADTE:: Mary Serreze notes in the comments, "frank and sydney's home is not on the list to be demolished, but is right across the street from where the new ramp entrance/exit would go."] under the current plan from MassHighway for the new I-91 Interchange, send via email a letter property owners received on that date via certified mail from Al Stegman at Mass Highway. In Sydney and Frank's email, they note

"We have not heard any information from the committee formed by the mayor and Ward 3 about this next step in the I-91 exit ramp issue. I am not sure these groups/people have this particular piece of information. I hope we can disseminate it to as many people as possible."
Feb. 7 - Northampton Redoubt posts online the letter sent from Albert R. Stegemann from Massachusetts Highway Department, to Sydney, Frank, and other property owners who own land in the vicinity of I-91 interchange project.
"Dear Property Owner,

Concerning our preliminary studies for the subject project in the City of Northampton, it will be necessary for our engineers or representatives to enter upon your property at..."
Feb. 8 - Jerry Budgar, the President of the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association, has a conversation with the Mayor about an unrelated topic. While on the phone, he mentions the "I-91 situation...indicating surprise that MassHighway had begun doing data collection work even before the Advisory Committee had met or was even informed." It was noted that the Mayor was similarly blindsided by the news, and would be calling MassHighway to request that the Advisory Committee meet very soon.

Feb. 9 - Community Radio Hour hits the streets and photographs all (some?) of the buildings slated to be demolished to make way for the new ramps and roads, "under the current plan promulgated by MassHighway." The photos added a new sense of understanding to one dimension of the costs involved with this project, and were quickly disseminated online via email, listserve, and on the Mass Live Northampton Forum, where I posted a link.

Feb. 11 - City Councilor Bob Reckman responds to an email from Frank and Sydney addressing their concerns.
"...I have no reason to think that Mass Highway will not re-do the traffic survey as they promised. I hope that there will be a meeting of the advisory committee relatively soon so that the community members can report more knowledgeably."
Feb. 11 - Frank and Sydney send a follow up email to City Councilor Bob Reckman pressing the issue further,
"...Thanks for your quick response when i asked about the proposed revised traffic study for the proposed improvements for the I-91 ramp in northampton.

However, in our understanding, a traffic study is typically done first. This would be especially true especially before 12 weeks of surveys are started--as you know we were sent certified letters from Mass highway and work has already begun. it is after the traffic study that a suggested conceptual design is created. Only then are the actual land surveys done. this notice by mass highway appears to be out of the typical format (it seems backwards) and is costing some significant dollars. They are NOT using an updated traffic survey and yet they are outside our home working. Once such work is done, as we all know, it has it's own inertia. Traffic studies to be scheduled after the fact seem somewhat ineffective.

although you personally may feel there is "no reason to think mass highway will not re-do the survey", it appears that they have already started a very hard-to-derail process. They are doing this using old information. Even the mayor indicated she was blind-sided by this. would it not be a better idea for you, as the ward counselor where this is going to occur, ( as well as being an individual very familiar with public works), to be more pro-active in finding out why they are going against general protocol and when the advisory committee meeting is going to take place--As well as any other plans they may have for your Ward?

As residents in the area directly affected, we believe there is SIGNIFICANT CONCERN about what will occur--especially if they do a traffic study AFTER they've done all their calculations. We think think that if you surveyed the residents you are representing in this area they would share a very big concern about the manner in which this project is moving as well as how quickly it is moving forward."
Feb 11 - City Councilor Bob Reckman responds,
"Dear Friends and Constituents:

I have spoken today to both Mayor Higgins and to Al Stegemann, the director of District 2 of Mass Highway. What they told me is the following:

--The recent letter about engineers conducting survey work is not related to any specific plan for Exit 19. It is intended simply to update their data base for the future design work that they anticipate for some sort of proposed changes to Exit 19. It is not in any way a step towards imminent domain takings.

--Mass Highway is currently about to issue a Request for Qualifications for designers for the work of thinking about changes to Exit 19. This is the first step towards hiring a design engineer. They will select 3 finalists and expect to have the final choice made sometime late this summer. I assume the Advisory Committee will be able to weigh in on the final choice.

--The Advisory Committee, which will be the 5 people recommended by Mayor Higgins (4 residents of Ward 3 plus the director of our DPW), [ed.: see below*] will have a preliminary meeting sometime in March. There will not be much for them to do, but I believe that once the committee has met we will be in a better position to respond knowledgeably to questions from the public. Once the designer is selected, I am sure the committee will have a substantial role.

--Once the designer has been selected, they will then start working on an updated traffic count. This is the first substantial step towards determining what the requirements could be for any changes that they finally end up suggesting.

--Director Stegemann was very clear that Mass Highway intends to move in a considered and deliberate way towards developing the new plans. They are not in any hurry. I can assure you that I and the other members of the Advisory Committee will strongly encourage them to listen to and work with the people who are most directly affected by this project.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Bob Reckman
City Councilor for Ward 3"
*On 12.20.07, the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association "...received notification from Mayor Higgins' office that she has recommended a number of Ward 3 residents as members of the Exit 19 Advisory Committee. The following names have been sent on to Al Stegman of MassHighway for final consideration:

Mara Shulman Ryan of Coolidge Avenue as direct neighbor representative, Christine Cahillane of Bridge Street as direct neighbor representative, Jerry Budgar of Bridge Street as president of the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association, and Bob Reckman of Fruit Street, the Ward 3 City Councilor-elect.

The mayor's office also informs me that previous plans only included one neighborhood representative, but Mayor Higgins asked MassHighway to increase that number.

Mayor Higgins also suggested the city's Department of Public Works Director, Ned Huntley, or his designated representative sit on the committee.

The mayor has also recommended that a member of Mass Bike be appointed to the advisory committee."

LABELS: ward 3 neighborhood assoc, I-91 interchange, ma highway, transportation

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