After years of complaints, construction is underway to improve the safety of a section of Nonantum Road in Newton and Watertown that has long been a magnet for traffic accidents.
The 1.57-mile stretch of road abutting the Charles River between Charlesbank Road and
Galen Street will be narrowed from four lanes to two. A landscape buffer of grass and plantings will separate the roadway from a widened riverside path.
Underground elements for future traffic control signals will be installed at Nonantum and Charlesbank Road. Four new turning lanes will also be added: two westbound, at Maple Street and Charlesbank, and two eastbound, at the yacht club and ice rink.
The first phase of the project got underway in mid June, said Richard Nangle, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Phase one consists of installing lighting, drainage, and other utilities, as well as adding new curbs to the side of the road.
The second phase is expected to begin this fall, followed by the third late this year or early 2011, Nangle said. The entire project is slated for completion by May 2012.
Construction has caused only minimal traffic delays, Nangle said.
"When there are delays they are at the Brooks Street intersection inbound at peak times, similar to where they occured prior to construction," Nangle said. "We have not seen an increase in traffic delays through the project area and we don’t expect any."
Nonantum Road has been the scene of dozens of car crashes since 2004 and four fatalities, including a 26-year-old Waltham woman who was killed in December 2008 after her vehicle hit a tree and went into the Charles River.
Around that time, the Department of Conservation and Recreation announced it had suspended work to redesign the roadway because of state budget cuts. The move outraged many area residents and public officials, who for several years had called for stepped-up safety along the narrow, winding parkway.
DCR resumed the design work a short time later, and responsibility for construction was transferred to the Department of Transportation. The transportation department is paying for the $5.3 million project with federal stimulus funds.
‘‘Once the project is complete DCR will have full responsibility for the maintenance and safety of the project area as well as the rest of the roadway,’’ Nangle said.
Sarah Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.