Trapelo project set for takeoff
The Trapelo Road/Belmont Street corridor in Belmont and Watertown has long suffered from an identity crisis, to the chagrin of befuddled motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians unable to figure out whether it has two lanes or four.
Now a section of the thoroughfare, cutting through Belmont from the Cambridge line to Waltham, is about to get a long-awaited makeover, with construction poised to start next year as federal and state funding for the $14.6 million project falls into place.
Plans call for bringing the 2.5-mile stretch of roadway, which also skirts Watertown, down to two lanes, as well as expanding sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides and modernizing traffic signals.
The project, while it is drawing strong support from local officials, is also raising some concerns.
The work includes some small-scale land takings in Watertown as well as turning a two-way neighborhood street into a one-way road, said Angeline Kounelis, a town councilor in Watertown.
She contends Watertown residents have not had a chance to see the latest version of the corridor’s revamping.
“It’s important that we have the opportunity as residents to view the 75 percent design plan and voice concern over the immediate impacts,’’ Kounelis said.
Kounelis has arranged a public informational meeting on the project with state transportation officials for Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. in the Town Council chambers.
Although acknowledging some issues still need to be hammered out, backers of the project - led by state Representative William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat - are hoping the reconstruction project will spark even broader changes along the roadway, including encouraging new residential and commercial investments.
The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization recently included the project in its updated long-range transportation plan for the region, a key step toward ensuring federal funding.
“It is hugely important,’’ Brownsberger said. “Right now Trapelo Road is one of those big roads that splits neighborhoods. This will unify Belmont on both sides of Trapelo Road and create a more positive, neighborhood feeling.’’
The corridor’s muddled state is not a new phenomenon. It has its roots in the late 19th century, when the road was designed with tracks in the center to accommodate a trolley.
The old-fashioned trolleys are long gone, but their presence can still be felt. Not only are there lingering design issues, but their old tracks have started to reappear in places as the pavement wears, Brownsberger notes.
One big aim of the project is to standardize the corridor and make it less confusing for everyone who uses it, according to state transportation officials. Although highway lines have been painted to try to make clear there is only one lane on each side, the road is wide enough that drivers can get confused into thinking there are two lanes.
“The one travel lane is so wide some drivers treat it as two lanes, and some treat it as one, creating an uncomfortable situation for drivers, which is potentially unsafe,’’ said Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
With the design of the project nearing completion, work could begin on the project next fall, he said.
The corridor will be repaved, and sidewalks and bike lanes will be added to both sides of the roadway. The changes will narrow the thoroughfare to a single lane for motorized traffic in each direction, according to Verseckes.
Aging signal lights will also be upgraded, with plans to coordinate the system to help move traffic along more efficiently, he said.
The new and improved Trapelo Road/Belmont Street corridor, in turn, is likely to have broader, even regional benefits, backers say.
For starters, the upgrades are expected to help untangle traffic on the key rush-hour route, which sees commuters making the trek into Cambridge and Boston in one direction, and out to the office parks of Waltham and Interstate 95/Route 128 in the other.
Yet some Watertown residents are not completely sold on the ambitious roadway plan.
Watertown borders the Belmont Street portion of the corridor, with the town line literally running right up to the edge of the sidewalk.
One of the biggest potential sources of contention will be land takings on Arlington Street, with one homeowner faced with the loss of a large chunk of his yard, Town Councilor Kounelis said.
The land takings, in turn, are tied into a plan that would turn Templeton Parkway into a one-way road leading from its intersection with Belmont and Grove streets.
And that has also raised concerns among some residents as well, said Steve Magoon, Watertown’s community development director.
Although making Templeton one-way could help traffic flow, it could make it harder for residents on the street to get in and out of their neighborhood, he said.
Kounelis said residents are looking forward to the badly needed work on the Trapelo Road/Belmont Street corridor, but also want to get a better understanding of what is being proposed.
“We are very supportive of this project as a whole,’’ Kounelis said. “It has been a long time in coming. Belmont Street and Trapelo Road are in deplorable condition.’’
Officials in Belmont are already looking ahead, with hopes for larger economic development gains from the long-awaited project, first proposed more than a decade ago.
A corridor that is easier to park on and walk across would provide an additional boost to local restaurants, three of which opened recently along the Belmont Street portion of the corridor. The new corridor will be easier for pedestrians to get across, with shorter crosswalks, said Thomas Younger, Belmont’s town administrator.
And it could also provide a lift to the planned redevelopment of Cushing Square, where a local builder is getting ready to unveil plans for converting a number of half-empty buildings into new residential and retail space, he said.
“Generally, what you hope for when you improve the condition of the road is that some of the facilities may do some capital improvements of their buildings,’’ Younger said.