“Friendly” land taking will facilitate Washington Avenue Bridge work

  • Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, right,  discusses the tow’s entry into the state Dept. of Transportation’s Complete Street Program at a recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen. At left is Selectman Lee Chauvette. —Greg Vine

Published: 3/15/2019 2:48:04 PM

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

ATHOL — Athol selectmen recently voted to approve the taking of several tracts of land to facilitate the state’s reconstruction of the Washington Avenue bridge, which spans the southern end of Lake Rohunta. The parcels, according to the Order of Taking, either abut or are near Washington and Morgan avenues, in the area of the Riceville Brook Improvement Project.

Town Attorney John Barrett told the board, “This is an order of taking, essentially a friendly taking. It’s land needed for both temporary and permanent easements necessary for road improvements in the Washington Street (sic) area and for the Washington Street bridge, and on Morgan Ave. This is a project being done by the state, but the town needs to do the land taking.”

“Morgan Memorial is the entity which owns the property,” said Barrett, “and I know Mr. Walsh (Athol Public Works Dir. Doug Walsh) has been in contact with them. Appraisals were done as to the value of the land, and I understand that they’re prepared to accept the damages which have been proposed.”

Under the agreement approved by the board, Athol will pay Morgan Memorial just over $6,000 for the nine parcels taken by the town.

The reconstruction of the bridge is included on the Transportation Improvement Program of the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission. A spokesman at MRPC said the commission, on behalf of the state, is getting ready to advertise for Requests for Proposals from companies that may be interested in undertaking the project. The reconstruction of the bridge, with an estimated cost of nearly $2.2 million, is scheduled for completion sometime this summer. It will be paid for with a combination of state and federal funds.

The Washington Avenue bridge is just under 32 feet in length and was built in 1940. The last inspection, undertaken in May 2018 by the state Dept. of Transportation (MassDOT), found the span to be “structurally deficient.”

In other action related to transportation, selectmen unanimously approved participation in MassDOT’s Complete Streets Program.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski told the board the program, launched in 2015, is designed “to ensure that any new construction in roadways, to the extent feasible, is multimodal; a combination of pedestrian, bicycles, vehicles. Under Doug’s (Walsh’s) direction and the town planner, they’ve been seeking entry into the program because there’s a substantial amount of grant money that goes along with it that goes directly to infrastructure.”

“What it does require,” said Suhoski, “is that we would look at projects to consider whether multimodal transportation can be accommodated, and where it’s feasible to do so.”

“An example of complete streets,” said Walsh, “is the new Market Basket, or Athol Commons area, where you see bicycle lanes, you see designated handicap accessible ramps, pedestrian lighting. When we do work going forward in designated areas, wherever possible, we’ll be incorporating complete streets technology in the design.”

“This program would be ideal,” said Suhoski, “for that area by the high school where the board has expressed concern about pedestrian safety. Certainly, some of the downtown vision projects could fall under this.”

Walsh said the town has received a $37,000 grant from MassDOT.

“This will help to implement the participation plan,” he said. “So, the next step is to actually designate certain corridors to try and figure out good bicycle routes and look at certain intersection where we can look at getting some design studies done.”


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