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Up to 345 hear speakers against and for Mass. Ave. plan

The battle for Mass. Ave. was waged with outbursts and calm expressions of views last night, as an estimated 345 people crowded the floor and balcony at Town Hall, many holding small stop signs, showing their opposition to the corridor project planned for East Arlington.

Mass. Ave. Corridor logo

The occasion was a public hearing on the 25-percent plan for significant changes to Arlington's main thoroughfare from Pond Lane to the Cambridge line. By 9:25 p.m., 41 members of the public had told those representing the project what they thought, 22 of them opposed. At that hour, at least 25 people remained in line to speak.

Comments ranged from those who want the project stopped to those who want it slowed -- "Get it right!" said Maria Romano of Bates Road -- to those who favor it. "It's not a traffic project," said Larry Slotnick of Grafton Street. "It's community-improvement project."

For the whole hearing, which ended at 10:40 p.m., the planning department said April 13 it had recorded a total of 65 speakers, 28 against and 37 in favor.

Adam Auster, a Town Meeting member who writes a blog about the corridor project, reported 79 speakers, 30 against and 46 in favor (and three neither).

Representatives of the state Department of Transportation and the project designer will consider all comments, as well as written ones, to help shape the final design, expected this fall.

The proposal under discussion was the one the town submitted last November to the Mass. Department of Transportation, Laura Wiener, senior planner and the town's point person for the project, wrote in an email Monday, April 11. The plan under discussion and the Functional Design Report are on the town's website here >>

The hearing came in two parts, an explanation of what the project is and comments from the public. Before the 7 p.m. hearing, protesters in two cadres, organized by the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Ccommittee(EACCC), stood in front of Town Hall holding banners.

During public comments, the opposition held up small stop signs on cue or shouted remarks with no cue at all. Selectmen Chair Clarissa Rowe called for order numerous times and threatened to have those who interrupted removed.

The description of the project noted that, before two years of work begins, rights-of-way may include some land-taking. The $5.8 million project is paid for with state and federal funds, except for unspecified costs borne by the town for land-taking.

Richard Azzalina, the vice president of transportation for the town-hired engineering firm Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, cited the project goals, among them safety, sidewalk reconstruction and accommodating bicycles.

While the selectmen, who listened, will have the last vote, the public on April 12 had the last word. Here is a sampling of the comments, expressed in three broad categories, objectors, supporters and commenters:

OBJECTORS

Lyman Judd, a former longtime Town Meeting member, known for his lengthy speeches there, was right at home in Town Hall. "When I hear traffic calming, I see traffic jamming," he said.

Eric Berger, a retired educator who has hired counsel and a traffic expert, to oppose the plan, alleged the project would undermine public safety, not improve it. To applause, he called the plan so far "the epitome of government taken over by the special interest of the few."

Bates Road resident Joe Connors of the EACCC said he has a petition with 2,700 signatures of those opposing the project and backing four lanes. At his request, those opposing the project held up stop signs.

Retiree Bob Haynes called Central Square, which he once over saw as a Cambridge police officer, "an unmitigated disaster." He compared the narrowing, bumpouts and bike lanes there to what he expects to happen in East Arlington. To applause, he said, "Stop trying to turn Arlington into Cambridge."

Romano thanked Mother Nature for providing a snowy winter that narrowed Mass. Ave. and, she said, showed the public what the corridor project would do -- turn the avenue into a "parking lot." (Azzalina said later that this winter's snows did not make "a perfect test case.")

SUPPORTERS

Jeff Maxtutis, cochair of the town's Transportation Advisory Committee, said a reworking of the lights would improve traffic flow.

Richard Fraiman, the owner of the Capitol Theatre at 204 Mass. Ave., said, "We see the amenities of this plan as a tremendous plus."

Ashley Costello, manager of Comella's, a restaurant next to the Capitol, also said she favored the project.

Magdalena Hoersch of Brattle Street said riding a bicycle with her daughter on Mass. Ave. now is "too dangerous." She urged the public to consider the effect of cars on climate change.

COMMENTERS

Bryn Bishop of Cleveland Street offered a middle-ground question: Why not keep the parts of the project people favor -- wider sidewalks, better bus stops, etc. -- without minimizing lanes.

Kimberley Sloan, the project manager for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said the state will continue accepting written comment on the project for 10 business days after Tuesday’s public hearing.

Comments can be submitted to: Thomas F. Broderick, P.E., Acting Chief Engineer, MassDOT, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116, ATTN: Project Management Section, Project File No. 604687.


This story was first published Wednesday, April 13.

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