Alan Chartock: Dread about impending road work
Now that the reconstruction of Great Barrington's Main Street is fast-approaching, the level of dread in our community is rising.
Let's remember that Great Barrington is the gateway to the Berkshires for many people, since Route 7 is the main north-south road in the county. If you are going north or south, chances are you will have to face this monster reconstruction process.
The town's business people are quaking in their boots, anticipating the impending chaos. We already know that the argument advanced by the town fathers and mothers that we would be getting free money to do the job turns out to have been spurious. It's costing us a growing fortune in cost overrun and the tally is rising as we speak. It never fails.
If all the business people and their friends had been eligible to vote on the subject, the outcome might have been different. These folks pay serious taxes and are certainly entitled to some consideration. I know one major business that has already left town, in part because of the hit the proprietor would inevitably face this summer which, after all, is prime buying time.
It doesn't stop with the construction, either.
Nobody's quite sure what the street will look like when all is said and done. The last thing we need is a gussied up shopping district with froufrou lamp posts and fewer parking places.
Again, we are receiving backdoor assurances that the parking diminution isn't going to happen but the proof will be in the pudding.
One of the reasons why Smithsonian Magazine named Great Barrington the best small town in America is its mixed economy. If we don't watch out, Lee will eat our lunch when it comes to general diversification.
In my neighborhood on Great Barrington's Castle Hill, people are very concerned (despite some assurances from the honchos) that the crucial right-turn lane from Main Street onto Taconic Avenue may disappear.
If you think "ambulance," "hospital" and "fire truck," you will understand how this could pose a real problem. We can only hope that the assurances we have received will stand. Since I am a born pessimist (Murphyist) and am seldom wrong, I can only presume that said assurances that will not hold up.
At the time this decision was made, we all understood, however grudgingly, that it was time to bite the bullet and stop piling layer upon layer of asphalt on the street. We needed a more permanent fix. The problem, of course, is that there is always a tendency to do what doesn't have to be done. The beautiful flowering trees were going to die so they all had to be replaced.
I had another take. What about the way we all do it at our houses -- when a tree dies, you replace it with another tree? When we fix our Main Street, maybe we should put out a tin can so when someone from the Egremonts or Alford drives through, they have to pay a toll to shop or play here. That would certainly help equalize tax rates.
On another matter, a short while ago I said for the hundredth time that the Great Barrington town library we invested a fortune in ought to be open until 10 o'clock at night so the town's students and citizens would have a place to go after school and work.
I was fed some bad information that the reason the library was doing a bit better was that volunteers had been recruited to staff the place. Now I get a letter from the head librarian saying they only have a few volunteers and the staff deserve the credit for doing extra work in order to keep the library open.
She requested that I ask people to volunteer for their library and I am happy to do so. Her name is Elizabeth Linder and you can reach her care of the Mason Library.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.
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