By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Grafton – Jeff Walsh, from Graves Engineering in Worcester, gave a detailed presentation to the Grafton Board of Selectmen at their April 5 meeting. The subject was a rework of Grafton Center and the Grafton Commons area.
The Commons is an area scenic high point and has been used as a backdrop for TV commercials and as a setting for the 1935 Mickey Rooney movie adaptation of the Eugene O’Neill play “Ah, Wilderness!” The gazebo on the Commons was constructed by the movie company because the director thought the Commons needed one.
According to Walsh’s presentation, the redevelopment – planning for which began last year — is to be done in multiple phases with the principal aim of “calming traffic.” According to at least one selectman, there is “just too much asphalt” in the center of town and, as a consequence, traffic is chaotic. The roadways vary from six feet in width to as much as 25, with different roads intersecting at odd angles and with confusing traffic flow direction signage. Anyone who has lived in Grafton for any length of time has been able to watch different traffic islands, signs, and flashing lights be toppled, crunched, moved, and otherwise “slain” by traffic which has traditionally come up Route 122 at a high speed only to encounter a bottleneck at the top of the hill.
The selectmen plan to use Chapter 90 money if available to pay for the changes, which were estimated at this meeting as approximately $215,000 for the work planned so far. Chapter 90 is a Mass. Department of Transportation program to provide funds to reimburse up to 100 percent documented expenditures under the provisions of General Laws.
Walsh showed drawings summarizing Phases 1-3 of the project. The work will involve road straightening and width conformity, redoing and adding crosswalks, and converting as much pavement to grass areas as practical. Because tractor-trailer movement through the center’s roads has been problematic, road changes and new limits should benefit both commercial and private traffic. Traffic overall will also be slowed in several areas – “traffic calming.” The project aims to modify traffic flow rather than create a new travel overlay.
Traffic islands will be modified and rearranged as needed and several additional parking spaces will be added to the center. More grass will be added to the library property and lane lines will be better defined and more easily plowed in winter. Scoring the pavement for that “rumble warning” sound was considered but rejected as more applicable to city driving. Also rejected for safety and drivability issues was making a walkway direct from the Grafton Inn to the Commons itself.
Regarding timing and financing, Town Administrator Timothy McInerney suggested a dual approach: apply for Chapter 90 money while planning for a late 2016 appeal to solicit bidding for project start in the spring of 2017. The town currently has approximately $1 million in Chapter 90 money available and total roadwork is likely to run $750,000 to $800,000. To completely rebuild/tear-up the center, as opposed to this plan, would run approximately $2.5 million.
“If we can get people to slow down by adding grass, great,” Selectman Brook Padgett said.
A number of other agenda items for the meeting were postponed as only three selectmen were present.