MELROSE — Nina Wentzell has lived in the same house on Washington Street in Melrose for the last 23 years. She says she got married there and raised her three children in the house, which was previously owned by her parents.
The house may be filled with good memories, but there was one drawback that was a constant source of anxiety, and even fear, to Wentzell — backing out of her driveway onto a busy two-way street.
“Those folks fly through that intersection and keep going,” said Wentzell. “Leaving and coming to my property was unsafe. Some guy once circled around the corner a second time and yelled at me and called me names.”
Wentzell, 44, can now safely leave her home in Ward 5 after a controversial traffic plan was implemented around the triangular island in the middle of the intersection of Washington Street, Pleasant Street, and Stone Place, just half a mile from the Oak Grove T Station.
She may feel safer with the changes, but many of her neighbors are furious and want the roadway to go back to the way it was.
The section of Washington Street by the island was made one-way, forcing drivers heading north from the T station to gain access to the street with a sharp left turn onto Stone Place, just after the traffic island. In addition, a stop sign was installed at the intersection of Stone Place and Washington Street, and the sidewalks on the large island were eliminated.
The project, which started in September and is slated to finish in November, was the result of several traffic studies conducted prior to the construction of Alta Stone Place, a 67-unit development on Pleasant Street that began leasing last March.
Lexington-based developer Wood Partners is overseeing the traffic project.
The permitting application for the Alta Stone Place development project was filed with the Planning Board in 2008. An initial traffic study was submitted with the application, as required by the city. Several months later traffic engineers conducted a review, and that’s when the intersection was deemed unsafe.
At a neighborhood meeting held last week to discuss the issue, residents said there are numerous problems with the roadway changes.
Alan Brown, who lives directly across from the new apartment development on Pleasant Street, said he worries about accidents on the corner that could result in damage to his property. Brown added that the increased traffic outside his home could also lower its value.
“We have a driveway that doesn’t feel safe anymore,” Brown said in a statement he read during the meeting. “We have a backyard that doesn’t feel safe anymore. A backyard that has more noise, more headlights, and more traffic traveling beside it. . . . We know there will be accidents, we know there will be damage, we just don’t know when, and we don’t know who will be involved.”
Pleasant Street resident Terri Fitzgerald said the bus stop’s location outside the entrance of Alta Stone Place is dangerous and could cause accidents.
“The bus stops, and people chain-reaction stop, and then you have to wait for everyone to get off the bus — not everyone is so patient and they drive around the bus,” Fitzgerald said. “And then you have people exiting Alta Stone Place.”
According to Melrose Police Chief Michael Lyle, there were six reported accidents at the intersection of Washington and Pleasant streets between Jan. 1, 2012, and Sept. 16, 2013. There have been no reported accidents at the same intersection since the traffic pattern improvements began.
The project “wasn’t done for aesthetic purposes,” said John Scenna, director of public works in Melrose. “It was in response to a traffic study done on an intersection that has a tremendous accident history. What you see out there was in response to an accident issue.”
Ward 5 Alderwoman Gail Infurna organized the neighborhood meeting and said the city could have been more proactive in alleviating the roadway transition, but residents should wait until the project is complete before coming to any conclusions.
“This was recommended because of safety issues that existed prior to this reconfiguration,” Infurna said. “Like any construction site, it’s never good when it’s in construction mode. Were there things we could’ve done better with signage? Absolutely. It always looks worse before it gets better.
Officials in Melrose have already begun taking steps to address residents’ concerns.
Mayor Robert Dolan said in a statement that these steps include working with Wood Partners to expedite the construction; drafting a letter to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to have the bus stop across from Stone Place relocated; enforcing traffic laws and assisting motorists during the transition period; installing signs on both sides of the construction site to warn drivers of the roadway changes; and evaluating the effectiveness of where sidewalks and crosswalks are located.
Once the construction is completed, officials will reevaluate the intersection to see if more improvements are necessary.
“You’re taking an extremely short street and putting a great stress on that road,” Fitzgerald said. “People that didn’t stop or slow down when it was a two-way at the corner of Washington and Pleasant are not going to slow down now, at the corner of Stone Place and Washington, when they’re trying to get on Washington to get home. What makes that traffic situation any different?”