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Residents upset over Route 18 widening project

A proposal to widen Route 18 over a 4-mile stretch from Highland Place in Weymouth to Route 139 in Abington has received a hostile reception from small business owners, town officials, and residents who say they’ve been ignored in the planning.

The $30 million project is designed to improve traffic, but at a public meeting held by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation last week in Weymouth, state officials heard objections on issues including removal of trees and the forced relocation of some residents.

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The plan would add an 11.5-foot-wide lane in each direction, creating four lanes in that stretch of Route 18. The project also calls for a temporary bridge to carry traffic while the almost 80-year-old bridge over the MBTA’s Old Colony railroad tracks is replaced.

“The key function for this project is to relieve traffic congestion while maintaining neighborhood safety and ensuring wetland protection,” said Martin Leelman, the project manager from MassDOT’s Highway Division.

But many of the meeting’s attendants do not agree, especially residents of the Clarendon Street and Thomas Road neighborhoods in Weymouth who made up most of the nearly 70 people who attended.

Diane Brodsky, who lives along Route 18 in South Weymouth, said the plan does not take into account the impact on residents in the area.

“If this project goes through, I’ll probably be forced to sell my house, and there’s nothing I can do. Apparently, I have no rights,” Brodsky said, visibly upset. Addressing the panel of transportation officials running the meeting, she said, “None of you live here or will be affected by this, and you don’t care about the residents who live around here.”

According to a MassDOT brief given out at the meeting, the state will take many residents’ homes or portions of land to accommodate the expansion. Appraisers from the Massachusetts Right of Way Bureau will offer homeowners a “fair market value” for their property, after which the owners can either move or relocate their existing home to a site away from construction.

Moreover, the highway division will cut down trees in some residents’ back yards to make room for the bridge construction, an action that Russell Hatch of Weymouth said will increase noise.

“The trees provide a barrier from the sound of the commuter rail and the highway. If you cut the trees down, the noise level will be insane,” said Hatch, who has lived on Clarendon Street for 17 years.

Tim Johnson from Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., one of the noise consultants for the project, said a preliminary sound analysis projecting future noise levels until 2030 did not bear out Hatch’s statements.

“The overall sound level is not normally affected by some amount of trees. Our measurements didn’t find the future sound levels would be above the noise abatement criteria,” Johnson said.

The state highway department and the Federal Highway Administration determined that they must consider noise-reduction measures once noise level reaches 67 decibels. Johnson said the noise created by expansion project “would be well below” this threshold.

Still, Hatch and his wife, Denise, remained resolute and encouraged the crowd to sign a petition pushing for a sound barrier to be built along the neighborhood side of Route 18.

Karen Johnston of Clarendon Street took issue with building a temporary bridge, saying it would encroach on her back yard and destroy the neighborhood.

“I’m alarmed that you’re not thinking about the inconvenience it will be to people who live around the area,” Johnston said. She urged the planners to build the bridge on the other side of Route 18, saying, “You should go back to the books.”

But because protected wetlands lie to the east of South Weymouth, building the bridge on the Clarendon Street side would contaminate the environment and put some endangered species at risk, according to Ali Tali, a project manager at HNTB Corp. who helped design the temporary bridge.

“The existing bridge was built in 1935 and its structure is no longer sufficient, but because of a sharp skew in the structure, it cannot be removed or repaired in pieces,” he said.

He added, though, that the bridge plans are still being formed.

Leelman said the MassDOT highway division will work with residents affected by the plan to better include them in the planning.

MassDOT will submit final design plans by the winter of 2014 and construction is scheduled to start at the end of 2015. Leelman expects construction to be completed by 2018.

Emily O’Donnell can be reached at emily.odonn@gmail.com.
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