WHITMAN — Pedestrians trying to get safely to Whitman Park will now have a fighting chance to successfully cross Park Avenue in that effort, thanks to a traffic island and sidewalk project now underway on the road.
Thanks to a $363,000 state Complete Streets grant, the DPW is making a change to the traffic island between Colebrook Cemetery and Whitman Park, where work had initially been concentrated, but new sidewalks on the opposite side of Park Avenue are now being included in the project.
“There was never any easy way to cross there,” Parks and Highway Superintendent Bruce Martin said of the traffic island, noting that the old crosswalk was more than 70 feet long, from when the East Middle School was there.
While the actual project is expected to cost about $100,000 more when completed, Martin said Chapter 90 funds and town roadwork money will be used for parts of the project not covered by the grant, such as engineering services.
Quite a bit of money was saved, however, by having DPW personnel tear out the old sidewalk and traffic island.
Removal of the old traffic island and relocating it closer to the park will provide safer access via cement sidewalk on the traffic island.
Traffic cones and barrels have been used to get drivers accustomed to the new roadway.
“You’ll have to come down and take a 90-degree turn onto Park Avenue, where before it was almost like an on-ramp to a highway,” Martin said. The change is intended to slow people down and increase safety for pedestrians.
The Park Avenue sidewalk installation is part of that project.
“We have many sidewalks that aren’t great, but that one was really bad. It was falling, it had big chunks taken out of it, the fact that there’s the church there and they don’t have any off-street parking …” He said curbing had been chunked off.
ADA-compliant curb cuts will be located at each intersection and one from Alden Street to the park. There will also be a “bump-out” in front of All Saints Episcopal Church — where the sidewalk will extend into the roadway about five feet — providing an oasis for pedestrians crossing from the church to cross over to Hayden Avenue where they may have parked.
The competitive grant is one that the state awards to make roads more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
“We actually put in for the grant for, like, four years in a row,” Martin said. “We got denied and then, finally, we got it.”
While the town tweaked their application a little bit each time, Martin said it comes down to the fact that it’s a competitive process, with every city and town in the state putting in for funding that can only fulfill a few applications each year.
“They might have liked our proposal year one, but they might have also liked somebody else’s,” he said.
With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill now before Congress, Martin said he hopes that means money will trickle down to the town, and asked state officials about that likelihood.
“Their answer was they don’t know,” he said, noting it is still too early to say.
Another, $185,000 Shared Streets grant — more tied into COVID funding — received the first week in July, will be used to upgrade sidewalks for greater safety in Whitman Center, according to Martin.
Originally, the town had been interested in upgrading the town parking lot off Washington Street, but that was rejected last year. When the town reapplied this year, the focus was on bump-out areas on all four corners of the Washington-Temple streets and South Avenue intersection to reduce the distance pedestrians have to walk and allow some green space in the center, Martin said.
He admits it might be a little controversial as people are confronted with the change. No parking spaces are expected to be lost to businesses, Martin emphasizes.
“In order to receive the grant, we had to have the work done by December of this year, so we’re scrambling a bit right now,” he said, noting that there is also the usual paving projects and curb work to do as well as the two grant-funded projects.