Officials: construction projects make way for safer streets

By Douglas McCulloch | Aug 10, 2017
Photo by: Douglas McCulloch Construction crews work along Padanaram Causeway. Scroll down to view an interactive map of both current and upcoming construction sites.

Travelling across Dartmouth alone is (at least!) a 20-minute ordeal, but with all the traffic cones, detours, and road closures, State Road, Padanaram, and other high-traffic areas are nightmarish.

According to Department of Public Works Director David Hickox, there’s a good reason for tearing up town roadways. Of the half dozen or so major projects in progress or upcoming, most of them tackle safety concerns for motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Two major sidewalk projects are already finished, giving the stretch of Dartmouth Street between Rockdale Avenue and Sol-E-Mar Street upgraded walkways.

A third and final phase will add sidewalks between the Southworth Library and the five-way intersection with Dartmouth Street, Middle Street, and Prospect Street. While that project is expected to finish by 2020, the town is still considering a roundabout for that area, which could improve the intersection’s looks and functionality, Hickox said.

“There’s not a lot of traffic there, and [a roundabout] might be a good way to aesthetically improve that mess of pavement,” he said. Currently, stop signs help control traffic in that area.

In Padanaram, work is underway to add revamped sidewalks to portions of several major streets in the village, including Elm Street from School to Prospect Streets, and Bridge and Water Streets. The widened streets will have the added benefit of easing parking issues.

“We went for a ‘complete streets’ format,” Hickox explained. “Parking will be safer and more controlled, as parking right now is not really organized.”

Roadway widening is complete, Hickox said. Crews are scheduled to begin adding the sidewalks after Labor Day, once the summer crowds dissipate to minimize disruption.

Close by, work continues on the Padanaram Causeway, which closed in August 2016 with the goal of rehabilitating it, along with a section of Smith Neck Road on the opposite side of the harbor. That section reopened in June of this year.

Despite facing several setbacks when contractors discovered problems with the foundation, progress is moving forward faster than expected.

“We had a good winter last year and we were able to work right through it,” Hickox explained. He said the current completion date is June 2018, although it could finish earlier than that.

In July, $1.2 million in federal and state funds was secured to complete extensive maintenance work on the bridge itself, last done in the late 1980s. The goal is to have the work done by the time the causeway construction is finished, but in the worst case scenario, only one lane of the bridge will close, Hickox said.

The bridge be completely replaced in the future. With nothing planned yet, Hickox aims to start discussions on replacing the swing span of the bridge, which was installed in 1935. Its reliability is unpredictable and servicing it is virtually impossible, he said.

In the meanwhile, Padanaram’s residents and visitors have had to detour up Elm Street, past the Dartmouth Police Station, along Russells Mills Road, and down Bakerville and Gulf roads on a trip that previously took about two minutes to cross the causeway.

Rita Zuber lives on Elm Street close to the center of the village. Although inconvenienced by construction, it’s given her a front-row seat as the village changes.

“I just got a beach sticker, but I don’t know if I’m going to use it,” she said, noting what used to be an easy bike ride to Apponagansett Beach now takes significantly longer. She’s even skipped out on Wednesday night concerts at the beach because she can no longer walk or ride her bike over the causeway to attend.

Despite those issues, Zuber eagerly awaits the completion of the sidewalk project and causeway upgrades. In her four years of living in Padanaram, she’s noticed the long line of parked cars build from a few weeks each summer to a year-round occurrence.

Lisa Whiting pointed to new restaurants and shops that have opened in recent years, aided by improved walkability in the village. She lived in the village for 25 years, and now lives on the other side of the bay.

Across town, a culmination of two projects targeting Faunce Corner Road are nearing completion.

Construction wrapped up on one project to realign and reconstruct ramps on Interstate 195 and the 195-Faunce Corner Road intersection in May. A second project to add a third northbound lane between Route 6 and Cross Road, is set to wrap up by the end of September.

In a separate item, Hickox wants to conduct a study of Faunce Corner Road from the railroad tracks near Ledgewood Boulevard to Old Fall River Road, which hasn’t seen any major upgrades yet. Hickox said much of that route is still a "country road."

The Route 6-Tucker Road intersection is the next big project for that section of town. A project would relocate Tucker Road northwest through the existing North Dartmouth Library and through a group of businesses to arrive at Hathaway Road. The intersection between Route 6 and Hathaway Road, which is currently controlled by stop signs, would be replaced with a fully signalized four-way intersection.

Progress has slowed down, however. Hickox said the town is still in discussions with the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to determine who will be responsible for required land takings and business relocations, as the new road would go through several privately owned properties in addition to the library, which will be relocated to a Cross Road. MassDOT’s online tracker lists the winter of 2021-2022 as a projected start date.

Two sections of Old Westport Road could change with two separate projects that are still in the early planning stages. In an effort to improve safety, the Chase Road/Old Westport Road intersection is planned to receive traffic lights to better support traffic bound for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

“The problem with this intersection is the stop sign is inefficient, particularly during high-volume periods like when a large number of students exit [UMass Dartmouth],” Hickox said.

Supported by $864,000 in state funding, Hickox said the aim is to put out bids in the late fall or early next year.

Further down Old Westport Road, a proposal floated by the university could see the main entrance shifted west to align with Cross Road. The proposal is part of the university’s master plan, although it is unclear where the project stands today.

"The concept is to make the entrance safer by aligning it with Cross Road," said UMass Dartmouth spokesperson John Hoey. "It's been the scene of several accidents over the years."

Hoey said the plan also calls for an additional entrance, but the newly relocated Cross Road entrance would still serve as the main way into and out of the campus.

Other projects include repairs to the Hawthorn Street culvert. Funded with a $400,000 grant and town funds, the culvert will be replaced to ease flooding issues on the street. The street will also be repaved. Construction is expected to start in 2018 and finish by 2019.

The town has applied for a $632,000 MassWorks grant to cover improvements to Rogers Street. Roadway improvements are slated to cover between Dartmouth Street and the end of the street at Clarks Cove.

Construction at the Padanaram Causeway should wrap up by June 2018. (Photo by: Douglas McCulloch)
Construction on the causeway continues. (Photo by: Douglas McCulloch)
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