Publius : The South Pleasant Street Pothole Repair Project

This piece, titled “The South Pleasant Street Pothole Repair Project,” was circulated anonymously among parents and community members in Fall 2015, once it became clear that the “Wildwood Building Repair Project” was actually going to be a “Reconfigure the District Project.”  Available also in PDF. — LQ

To Members of the Amherst Community,

Some of you may know me, though many probably do not. My name is Robert Underwood Reddi, though most folks just call me “R.U.”. I’m the Secretary of the town’s Public Works Committee.

I’m writing to let you know about an exciting opportunity and important decision that lies before us as a town. For many years, the town has been plagued by troublesome potholes on the main drag through downtown, South Pleasant Street. There also are issues with some of the water, sewage and other utilities that lie under that section of road. Happily, we’ve been selected by the Commonwealth to receive substantial state funding to undertake necessary repairs.

As part of the application process with the state, we were required to submit a number of options for scope of work, and ultimately, the community will need to select just one of these options. For shorthand, we’ve been referring to these options collectively as the “South Pleasant Street Pothole Repair Project”. Not very exciting as a name, we know, but there it is. Let me explain the options.

Option 1 would allow us to fix the potholes and resurface the road on the downtown section of South Pleasant Street. Option 2 would allow us to replace the underlying utilities before resurfacing. Excitingly – and this may be a surprise to many of you – there is an Option 3, one that I think you’ll be interested to hear more about.

Option 3 is a “big vision” option. It would allow us to build an elevated four-lane highway, running roughly from the area around the Common School north, through downtown, to Pine Street in Cushman. Obviously, a brand new, much larger and much longer road floating at about the second-story level through the middle of downtown Amherst is pretty exciting stuff, but what is particularly notable about this option is that it allows us to resolve some other, long-festering problems the town has faced.

For example, this option includes two aerial roundabouts, one at the intersection of Rt. 9 and the Town Common, and the other at the main intersection downtown at Amity and Main Streets. Those perpetual traffic snarls would become a thing of the past for Amherst commuters. There also has been a lot of talk about limited parking in the downtown. Boom! Problem solved. With traffic cruising overhead, the current streetscape will offer plenty of room for parking. What’s more, our engineering and design team tells us that we can use space-age materials in the construction of the causeway that will vastly reduce future maintenance costs. You have to admit, that’s a pretty nice feature associated with Option 3.

I’d also like to draw your attention to a number of attractive amenities that will – I mean WOULD – accompany this 21st Century transportation marvel once – I mean IF – it’s built. We have some great renderings we can share that show the bike path that will weave among the cars parked under the “Amherst El” (Cute name! Go Bulls!), as well as a Manhattan-like High Line Park to run alongside the elevated car traffic, and mini aerial “bump-out parks”, complete with ice cream and hotdog stands in summer time. Talk about summer jobs for youth and general economic development!

Obviously, every project comes with some downsides, though we’re confident that future planning can address these blemishes. One issue we’ve identified is the 10-12 exit ramps that will be required, some leading into existing neighborhoods. These, unfortunately, will disrupt affected neighborhoods and require rerouting some neighborhood streets, as well as create several dead-end and one-way streets. It’s also clear that one of the ramps will have to occupy the south portion of Amherst Town Common and that another ramp will empty out into the middle of Village Park. Again, we are confident that future planning can mitigate what might appear at present to be insurmountable negatives associated with these elements of the Option 3 plan.

So, that is a summary of some of the more exciting aspects of the South Pleasant Street Pothole Repair Project (working title only! A replacement title we are considering is “Our Bridge to the 21st Century!”). Currently, we do not have cost estimates associated with the different options nor data on likely impacts to town residents, businesses and other stakeholders. Actually, however, this seeming negative – the lack of any information with which to make an informed decision -really is just another positive in disguise: the decision as to which option the town will implement must be made in the NEXT THREE WEEKS (Surprise!). Realistically, no one could digest the relevant information in that amount of time anyway, so why make a big production out of it to begin with? By the way, community input during this three-week comment period is, of course, strongly encouraged. If however, you can’t make the meetings, no worries – we think we’ve got this covered.

Finally, in closing, to the secret as well as the loudly-proclaimed Luddites among you, the naysayers and the foot-draggers, I’d like to make a heartfelt plea. Once the members of the Public Works Committee have made our final selection, please put your doubts behind you and face the future with an open mind and a warm heart. We truly hope you will get on board and contribute constructively to the exciting visioning process that will begin just three weeks from now (only, of course, if we DO, in fact, select Option 3). Because once we have selected Option 3, there will be only “two roads forward” (pun intended!): embrace the exciting possibilities of a 21st Century streetscape and all it will bring to our little town or leave all that state funding on the table, turn your back and walk away. If Town Meeting, in the fall of 2016, somehow opts for this “cash-free path” (pun intended!) – well, not to put too fine a point on it, but in that case, we might as well just keep the name as is: the South Pleasant Street Pothole Repair Project. What a bore.

Yours Truly,

R.U. Reddi!

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