As vote nears, supporters speak up for downtown project
The Main Street Corridor Project will bring much needed infrastructure updates to a growing town and should not be rescinded, a new group that has formed to support the project believes.
The group, For The Main Street Corridor Project, organized after the Select Board at its Nov. 5 meeting reluctantly called for a Special Town Meeting to revisit the project that was approved by voters at the May 2018 Town Meeting. The Special Town Meeting, which was prompted by a petition from an opposition group called the Main Street Alliance, is scheduled for Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Hopkinton Middle School auditorium.
“We woke up Wednesday morning and we thought we should do something,” said Joe Markey, spokesperson for the group.
Supporters formed For the Main Street Corridor Project, which has a Facebook page aimed at informing the public about the plan’s benefits.
“We definitely need to invest in our infrastructure,” Markey said. “We’re a growing community. A growing community requires infrastructure investment.”
The project affects Main Street from just west of Wood Street to Ash Street, a total of .83 miles. The project aims to improve traffic flow along with safety of pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists and provide streetscape and aesthetic improvements. A major component of the project involves realigning the Route 135/Route 85 interaction to almost 100 percent straight configuration.
Markey said the project will bring much-needed improvements.
“The state of the Main Street corridor is pretty poor,” he said, noting that traveling through that area during rush hour can result in mile-long backups.
Since the Town Meeting vote, some residents have raised concerns about the cost of the project, its potential impact on traffic flow and accessibility to businesses during construction, as well as easements, both temporary and permanent, that the work will require, among other issues.
Markey said he feels “a little uneasy” about revisiting an issue that was already approved by Town Meeting voters. He also said the project makes sense for the town and its expanding population.
The Select Board released a fact sheet with responses to some of the most common criticisms of the project.
On the issue of cost, Markey said the $15 million project would cost taxpayers about $3 million. State, federal and other financial contributions account for $8.3 million. Host community agreements will provide $3.25 million and state grants will contribute $500,000 and potentially more, according to the town.
This funding already has been appropriated by the May Town Meeting.
Markey also said that, contrary to what some are saying, the project has not been kept from the public and was not done without careful thought and planning.
The project has been a “front and center issue” for the town since at least the early 2000s, he said, and improving downtown and its infrastructure has been a “top goal” of the Select Board since at least 2003.
Markey served as the Planning Board representative to the Downtown Revitalization Committee as far back as 2009. Even that far back, he said, the committee had discussions on how to improve the downtown and reviewed various options.
The issue of easements frequently has been raised by some critics of the project, who have said their business or property would be negatively impacted.
The Select Board responded that about 60 percent of the easements will be temporary until some time after the project is complete.
The permanent easements are required if the proposed project impedes on private property when public access will be required. The property will not be taken outright and property owners will be compensated for easements granted, the town noted.
Critics also have said that the money would be better spent on the town’s schools. Markey also said he is “well aware of the need to invest in our schools.” He served as chair of the School Building Committee that led to the opening of Marathon Elementary School in September 2018.
But the project funding would not automatically revert to schools if the project were defeated, the Select Board explained. School funding would have to be proposed in a separate article.
Funding for both the downtown project and the town schools is crucial to the town’s growth, Markey opined.
“I’d like to see selectmen become more assertive in advocacy for our schools and our downtown,” he said.