Hudson rotary construction proceeds, for now, in COVID-19’s shadow

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By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Hudson rotary construction proceeds, for now, in COVID-19’s shadow
Hudson Rotary
Photo/Dakota Antelman

Hudson – After four years of waiting, the start of construction on Hudson’s redesigned downtown rotary has hardly been the moment of triumph town officials once expected. 

That’s because, since crews first arrived in town, COVID-19 has loomed, threatening to send them home due to a regulatory quagmire its created. 

“It’s been weighing on all of us,” Assistant Planning Director Kristina Johnson said. “Do we keep it going? Do we stop it?”

The project itself kicked off in 2016 when a traffic study coupled with public input sessions revealed the 23,000 cars speeding daily through the area created hazardous conditions for the pedestrians Hudson’s booming downtown business district draws.

In response, leaders like Johnson commissioned a firm to redesign the rotary to include more pedestrian space and new measures to slow and otherwise manage vehicular traffic through the area. 

After delays due mainly to the state’s denial of a grant application to fund the project, town officials finally piecemealed money together and allowed Bridgewater contractors Harding Construction Co. to begin work April 10.

“It’s the same project we’ve been contemplating all along,” Johnson explained, noting the timeline has simply drawn on due to those aforementioned funding woes.

If work runs uninterrupted, Johnson said, construction should wrap by early 2021. That, however, is where COVID-19 snarls things. 

Gov. Charlie Baker has instituted strict guidelines on social distancing in and around construction sites. Those potentially conflict with workplace safety guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that require “redundancy staffing” in some situations that don’t allow for social distances, like in trenches or while working in manholes. 

“Those [sets of guidelines] may not be complimentary,” Johnson said. “You may not be able to do both.”

Some have already raised alarm about construction in this climate. Last month, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh halted all work in his city over such fears. More recently, members of the region’s largest construction union walked off the job in protest of their work conditions amid COVID-19. 

Back in Hudson, construction was proceeding at the rotary as of April 21. Crews had dug some ditches, but, Johnson said, most work had focused on surveying the area to prepare for further construction later on. 

She said police and DPW leaders have been visiting the site at least once each week to monitor compliance with social distancing and OSHA guidelines. Those officials, as well as Hudson’s public health director, all, she added, actually have the authority to halt construction immediately if they find crews are not navigating guidelines appropriately. 

Ultimately, Johnson said town officials like her are concerned about the safety of workers should conditions at the construction site demand labor in close quarters. Emphasizing abilities to halt construction quickly, she notes the work is not an emergency project and thus would not carry dire consequences if stopped. 

That being said, she said the town’s contractors are enthusiastic about remaining on the job and hope, like Johnson, the situation will allow for them to work uninterrupted through the year. 

“It’s a touch and go situation,” she said, reflecting on it all. “We’re just kind of seeing how things roll out. We’re seeing how it’s progressing.”