Williamstown praises MassDOT for roadwork - with constructive criticism

The reconstruction of Water Street will result in more parking and better sidewalks, but during construction, it has generated concerns from businesses and motorists.

WILLIAMSTOWN — Thanks for the help, but not the headaches.

The Select Board wants to let the Massachusetts Department of Transportation know that it is appreciative for the state's efforts to rebuild Water Street, but that it is "disappointed" in the lengthy traffic disruptions the community experienced during construction.

Water Street serves as a secondary commercial corridor in town and as part of Route 43.

According to DOT spokeswoman Judith Riley, the project entailed excavating and full-depth hot mix asphalt pavement construction; installing new curbing, drainage, cement concrete sidewalks and driveway aprons; providing and spreading loam borrow and seed; installing street lighting, traffic signing and pavement markings; and identifying traffic control management opportunities and other street improvements.

The project begins about 800 feet south of Meacham Street and ends 400 feet south of Main Street. The total length of the project is 2,415 feet. The bid price for the project is $1,743,356 and the contractor is C&A Construction.

At Monday's Select Board meeting, the board voted unanimously to endorse a letter to the DOT praising it for its efforts in Williamstown and expressing concerns with the logistics of the work that left Water Street a muddy, gravel-filled obstacle course for several weeks in October.

"The end result will be a good thing for Water Street," Town Manager Jason Hoch told The Eagle before Monday's meeting, citing additional parking and new sidewalks.

He explained that the state's plan called for the removal of asphalt in both lanes at the same time, rather than one lane at a time, to reduce the amount of time under construction, but the result was a two-way gravel road. Then the October rains came.

"The weather has not been helping," Hoch said.

He also noted that since this project is paid for entirely with state money, "the state calls all the shots."

The letter, addressed to MassDOT District One Construction Engineer Mark Ringie, notes that "members of the Williamstown Select Board wish to express both their gratitude and disappointment regarding the MassDOT's project to improve the north section of Water Street."

The letter acknowledges the complexity of the project involving a variety of utilities and the drainage-replacement project in the same location, and expresses enthusiasm for the design and the end product.

"Nonetheless we were disappointed by the pace of the project and the disruption it has caused for our community," the letter continues. "Work began in March of 2018. Traffic delays, which have occurred most business days since the project started, have created hardship in particular for residents who must frequently travel that stretch of road. The numerous in-street excavations had varying states of interim repair.

"We have received multiple complaints from residents about the wear and tear to vehicles caused by the poor road conditions particularly in September and October. During that time, the temporary gravel road was barely navigable at times due to the numerous road irregularities and potholes exacerbated by rainfall."

The letter offers the input basically as constructive criticism, in hopes that it will be taken into consideration during any future projects in Williamstown.

"Williamstown residents have been patient and willing to look ahead to the long-term benefits of the project," the letters reads. "However, as their elected representatives, we feel it is our responsibility to register with your office our disappointment with the pace of the project and the manner of execution. It is our hope that we will be able to learn from this experience so that we can find ways to collaborate on strategies to manage and to mitigate the disruption of future projects as we anticipate further work around town, including additional sections of Water Street/Green River Road."

Several businesses along Water Street felt the impact of construction.

"There were several times when we had excavators parked in our driveway during business hours," said Riley England, manager of Hot Tomatoes pizza place on Water Street. "A lot of customers complained about it, saying it was a nightmare and avoid coming down here altogether."

And when it rained, the storm drains were not accessible so "water flooded right into the basement."

He noted that business is significantly down over last year's numbers for this period.

At the Water Street Grill, co-owner Hannah Reinhard said she knows that a number of customers couldn't make it to her business because of the project.

"They did block off both of our entrances several times during different parts of the day," she said. "But if you think about it, there's nothing we can do about it, so I guess you could say we just made the best of it."

The design of the project adds several parallel parking spaces, new sidewalks, a bike lane and new streetlight.

"Over the long term, this is a major, long-term infrastructure investment, and after some short-term challenges, it will bring us long-term benefit," Hoch told The Eagle.

According to Riley at the DOT, the project included five utility agreements — Verizon, Charter Communications, Mass Electric, Berkshire Gas and Light Tower Fiber — for relocation of utilities to facilitate the reconstruction work. The utility work delayed the bulk of the actual construction until mid-July.

She acknowledged the traffic hardships and noted that "as with any full-depth excavation project, traffic management is challenging, since there is period of time in which traffic flows on a gravel surface. However, at this point, the first two courses of pavement have been installed. The curbing, sidewalk and driveway work will continue through Thanksgiving. The contractor will then shut down for the winter and complete the project next year."

As of late last week, the roadway has had its first two layers of asphalt installed. There will be asphalt sidewalks installed before the snow flies, Hoch said.

In the spring, the last layer of asphalt will be installed and concrete sidewalks will replace the temporary asphalt sidewalks. The project will wrap up soon after that.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.