An estimated 400 people jammed Town Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the second hearing for the Mass. Ave. Corridor project. Of 75 who spoke, 53 expressed support (76 percent), 12 opposition and five others raised questions but left their position unclear.
The Federal Highway Administration requested the hearing, but no representative from the federal government was present at the table in front of the crowd. The session lasted three hours and 40 minutes.
Residents have 10 days to submit written comments to the state to Thomas F. Broderick, chief engineer, MassDOT, Highway Division, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, Mass. 02116-3973 Attn: Project Management
Analyses led up to 2nd hearing | Selectmen decline to add new question, March 1
Berger: "Resentment over 2nd hearing"
Romano: "'Fix, don't ruin'"
Transcript of hearing comments (town website)
After that, federal, state and town officials will decide whether or not to move forward.
Overall, the evening proceeded with civility, but there were moments of tension.
State Sen. Ken Donnelly, a Democrat who lives in Arlington, presented a ringing defense of the project. "We must move forward," or funding could be lost, he said to strong applause.
As he continued, some cried out, "Lies!" Donnelly asked for respect to continue, and he did, pointing out that the state faces a September deadline to advertise a federal project. If the project doesn't proceed, funding could be lost.
"It’s time to make a decision that will determine if we move on using the funding available to us or wait and use local money, our money," he said to applause.When Eric Berger rose to speak, a critic of the project since 2009, demanded more time than the three minutes allowed for any speaker. He said that if he did not get the time, he would continue speaking past three minutes.
"I'm speaking for the 98 percent who are sick and tired of being ignored," he said. Opponents, he said, fear gridlock, believe the public has been misled and that the Corridor plan was "developed in secrecy."
When the clock hit three minutes, Berger continued. "I'm not done," he said. Corridor project supporters then began a clapping applause so that Berger could not be heard. At length, a state official called a halt to Berger's speech and the applause.
Later, Sean Harrington, a Precinct 15 Town Meeting member and a project opponent, said he found the jeering "despicable." He presented officials with a sheaf of documents that he said showed opposition to the project from 268 individuals and 32 businesses.
Launching public comments clearly in the supporters' column were those by Selectmen Chairman Kevin Greeley, who said he spoke on behalf of the board.
"It’s unique, it’s necessary and I personally feel it's a very exciting project for business development, for beautification and to create a destination versus an area that we look to rush through going in or out of the town of Arlington," he said.
Other selectmen present were Joseph Curro, Dan Dunn and Steve Byrne. Former Selectmen Clarissa Rowe, a Precinct 4 Town Meeting member, called herself a slow walker who is "110 percent behind" the project, which aims to improve safety on wide avenue.
Precinct 7 Town Meeting member Phil Goff, chairman of the East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition, which backs the current design, said computer models have shown that the Corridor design would delay a westbound motor vehicle 26 seconds by 2028 and that this applies during the evening rush hour.
Expressing strong opposition besides Berger was Maria Romano, among those representing the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee and who is making a fourth try to be elected to the Board of Selectmen.
She also asked for more than three minutes to speak and was turned back. "We had a plan four years ago,' she said in a statement she read, "and the town never looked at."
On the seats in the hall were copies of a three-page document with a red cover title "Residents Corridor Plan," June 2009. The focus then, as it is with the group's push for the ballot question in the April town election, is on trying to preserve four lanes.
The majority of speakers favored the current plan. It proposes three lanes, two eastbound lanes toward Cambridge and one westbound lane toward Arlington Center, from Pond Lane to the Cambridge city line.
Some supporters said they wished the original plan was still effect; that is, to have one lane each way.
An opponent, Precinct 13 Town Meeting member Stephen Harrington, pointed to Pleasant Street, which once was wider than it is now. Noting the daily backups there, he said, "That's the future of Mass. Ave."
Supporters included East Arlington parents of young children as well as those who live in other parts of town but see the planned improvements as ways make the gateway from Cambridge more inviting.
Businesses managers weighed in: While the owner of Arlington Vision Center opposes the plan, another, Alan Tauber of the Drum Connection, near the Fox Library, expressed his support. So did owners of the Capitol Theatre, Barismo and Salvage Inc, through a letter.
Donna Janis, a longtime opponent, had questions about when surveyors would check on right-of-way and asked whether on-demand pedestrian light would be included.
Aileen Gildea-Pyne expressed support for the plan's safety but questioned whether trucks would continue to unload in front of business, as they do now, blocking bike lanes.
Among the 75 speakers, five did not clearly express a position about the plan but still raised issues for officials to consider.
Bob Radochia, a Precinct 20 Town Meeting member, wondered whether the bus stop in front of the Capitol Theatre should be moved for safety's sake.
Glenn Koenig drew applause with his call to make sure that once the project is finished, any problems be addressed and that the state does not walk away from the project.
Town Meeting members backing the current design were Adam Auster (Precinct 3), Barbara Boltz (9), Robin Dratch (3), Molly Flueckiger (4), Goff (7), Gordon Jamieson (12), Alan Jones (14), Hugh McCrory (20) and Susan Stamps (3).
Meeting members speaking against it were Berger (6), Sean Harrington (15), Stephen Harrington (13), Mark Kaepplein (7) and Romano (7).
The start of the project recently was delayed for three month. Advertising for bids now will occur about June 1.
This story was first published Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, and updated March 26 to add link to hearing comments.