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Final 128 work feted and feared

By Deirdre Fernandes
Globe Staff / August 12, 2012
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A new interchange planned on Route 128 at Kendrick Street is being heralded in Needham as a potential boost to economic development, but questioned by Newton officials who worry it could lead to more congestion on local roads.

Kendrick Street is the only new interchange the state plans to build as part of a 13.7-mile, $483 million project to expand Route 128/Interstate 95 from three lanes to four between Randolph and Wellesley.

The final section, from the Needham railroad bridge to the highway’s Route 9 interchange, is in the last stages of design, and communities along the stretch of road are lining up with suggestions and concerns. Construction is scheduled to begin next summer and finish in 4½ years.

Needham officials recently rezoned the land off Kendrick Street, northeast of Route 128, in anticipation of the new interchange offering a more direct route to the New England Business Center and attracting new development.

“We’ve been relying on it,” said Devra Bailin, Needham’s director of economic development. “We’re very excited.”

But some Newton residents and city officials worry that it could funnel traffic onto Kendrick, which becomes Nahanton Street in Newton. In addition, they fear that drivers heading out of Newton would use quieter Winchester and Dedham streets to reach the new Route 128 interchange.

While none of the Route 128 work will take place in Newton, the most significant road alterations are planned just across the border in Needham and Wellesley.

“It’s just not clear what the balance is between the benefits and the drawbacks,” said Newton Alderwoman Ruthanne Fuller.

The road-widening project starts in Randolph by Route 24 and arches through a half-dozen communities en route to Wellesley. The first phase of the expansion, between Randolph and Westwood near Route 109, is scheduled to open this fall.

The purpose of the project is to eliminate the use of breakdown lanes as travel lanes during rush hours, replace aging bridges, and make interchanges safer.

“It’s quite a feat,” said Michael Verseckes, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, about the project.

State transportation officials know that communities affected by the final leg, such as Needham, Wellesley, and Newton, have questions about the design, Verseckes said.

The final 3.5-mile section from the railroad bridge to Route 9 has numerous and complicated elements.

Aside from the new Kendrick Street interchange, the state plans to add new roads leading to the interchange from Kendrick Street and Highland Avenue. The Highland Avenue bridge will be replaced.

The state will also install traffic lights on Route 9 on either side of the interchange with Route 128, and remove two of the four loops with ramps to the highway.

Both Newton and Wellesley officials are skeptical about the Route 9 changes.

“We’re trying to make sure that no traffic is displaced from 128 and going into the city on roads that can’t take it,” said Newton Alderman Brian Yates.

Residents of Quinobequin Road in Newton say they worry that the new traffic lights will cause backups on Route 9, and push drivers to take a short cut through their leafy neighborhood in order to get to Route 128.

“It’s poorly designed and I don’t think it was thought out well,” said Valerie Forte, who has lived on Quinobequin Road since the 1970s.

In Wellesley, a police officer is assigned to direct traffic on Route 9 every weekday afternoon, said Town Executive Hans Larsen.

Traffic leaving the Wellesley Office Park on Williams Street, drivers moving quickly along Route 9 westbound, and commuters trying to get onto Route 128 all make that section of road dangerous, Larsen said.

Wellesley officials are not sure that removing two offramps and adding traffic lights will make it safer and ease problems, Larsen said.

“We’re very concerned about that,” Larsen said. “We’re not sure people fully appreciate some of the traffic flows as it works today.”

Wellesley has informed state transportation officials about its concerns, Larsen said.

Newton, too, has requested more information and justification for some of the road changes. City officials believe that it might be necessary to add traffic lights along Nahanton Street to deal with the additional traffic, said David Turocy, Newton’s public works commissioner.

The project is still in the design phase, and the state “certainly will” respond to the concerns raised by surrounding communities, Verseckes said.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernades@globe.com.

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