ABINGTON — Bob and Barbara Turpel’s cedar-shingled house has sat proudly along Bedford Street, also known as Route 18, since 1822. That is 54 years before Custer’s Last Stand, and before gold was discovered in California, the homeowners are quick to point out.
Like some of their neighbors, the Turpels now worry about how their home will survive a proposed $37.6 million expansion of the roadway, from two lanes to four. The state Department of Transportation is planning to widen 4.1 miles of Route 18 from Highland Place in Weymouth, near Route 3, to Route 139 in Abington.
“We’re not happy about it at all,” said Barbara Turpel, whose family first moved into the house 71 years ago, when she was 10.
Back then, she said, there were mostly farmhouses and fields around. The house on one side of the Turpels’ has long been replaced with retail stores, and Bedford Street has grown busier,
dirtier, and wider. The Turpels’ front door is now just 25 feet from the street, and only one tree remains between the house and the pavement.
One winter, a young woman drove off the road and her car landed upside down in their driveway. Bob Turpel and a neighbor had to pull her out of the car, gasoline spilling around them. Then there are the daily annoyances of litter blowing onto their property and the challenge of trying to get in and out of the driveway, especially in the afternoon. According to Barbara Turpel, they have to wait for a “good soul” to let them through.
But now there is the great uncertainty. The Turpels do not know how much of their property they will lose to the road widening. They also wonder about problems during the expected two to three years of construction.
“It’s chaotic to think about it,” said Bob Turpel.
Michael Verseckes, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the widening project is meant to improve safety and reduce congestion along Route 18. He said 215 parcels of land may be affected. Title searches will be conducted and owners will probably be notified next spring, with bids for the project going out in the summer or fall of 2015, he said. Some owners, but not all, have been told roughly what the widening will mean to their properties.
Included in the project is replacement of the bridge that carries Route 18 over the railroad tracks near Barbara Lane and Thomas Road in Weymouth, and reconstruction of the intersection at Pond Street (Route 58) and the east-west parkway to the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station, now being redeveloped as SouthField and partially the impetus for the widening. The bridge work will require building a temporary bridge and the taking of a stoneworks business nearby, Verseckes said.
Construction is expected to be completed by 2018.
Other officials also said expanding the roadway is necessary for progress.
“It’s important to happen for economic development reasons and for existing traffic burden,” said Bill Ryan, spokesman for LNR Property LLC, SouthField’s developer. The development now has 300 occupied residential units, with 2,500 more planned; 2 million square feet of commercial space is also expected to be built there during the next 10 years, he said.
Joseph Shea, Abington’s point person on the project, said that there are concerns but that the traffic congestion needs to be addressed. He said there have been days when it took him two hours to get from Route 139 to Route 3 on his way into Boston.
“Something needs to be done,” he said. “We need to minimize the impact and make it as beneficial as possible.”
State Representative Geoffrey G. Diehl, a Whitman Republican, whose district includes
Abington, East Bridgewater, and Whitman, said traffic is so bad that he adds an hour to his commute to the State House if he is traveling at peak time. He said he wrote to residents and business owners along Route 18 in his district about the widening and had not received any negative feedback.
“I think they appreciate and look forward to better access,” Diehl said.
He said the expansion of the road, which he labeled as probably one of the oldest roads in the country, is overdue. It’s the same road Union troops answering President Lincoln’s call used on their march into Boston, and is the toll road from Cape Cod to Boston of the famed “toll house cookie” invented at the Toll House Restaurant in Whitman, he said.
But dozens of Weymouth residents who attended a public hearing organized by the state in Weymouth in April were not pleased. One woman said she would probably be forced to sell her house and move. Others in the Clarendon Street and Thomas Road neighborhoods said they were concerned about the upheaval during construction of the temporary bridge.
Brian Coffey, a realtor who lives on Thomas Road, said his property backs up to where the temporary bridge will be built. He said he understands the road needs to be widened, but added that he is worried current noise and flooding will be made worse, and that he is skeptical of an assurance from a town councilor that construction trucks will not travel on his street, where his young children and others play.
Coffey said he has about 100 signatures and hopes to gather more on a petition to urge that sufficient measures be taken to protect the neighborhood. He said he is also concerned property values in the area might plummet because of the construction.
He said he was told by a Department of Transportation official that the temporary bridge could not be built on the other side of Route 18 because of concerns about a species of turtles.
“Turtles don’t pay taxes,” he said.
But building a bridge through endangered species habitat would face an incredibly challenging permitting process, said Verseckes. He said that no other public hearings are scheduled by the department, but the conservation commissions in Weymouth, Abington, and the South-Shore Tri-Town Development Corporation, which oversees SouthField, will hold public meetings in conjunction with the state agency.
Along the roadway, meanwhile, business owners and others are thinking ahead.
Abington Fire Chief John Nuttall said if any land is taken in front of the town’s main fire station and headquarters, located at 1040 Bedford St. since 1964, he may not have enough room to park the ladder truck outside the station, which is necessary for cleaning and maintenance.
He said an ideal solution would probably involve relocating the station. Like others, firefighters face the challenge of getting on and off Route 18, though they do have the advantage of lights and sirens.
“It’s a parking lot,” said Nuttall of the afternoon backups. Whatever happens, he said, “We’ll just deal with it the best we can.’’
Michael Costa, general manager of the Abington Ale House & Grille, which is open for lunch and dinner, said all three of the establishment’s signs along the road will have to be moved, along with the sprinkler system and the flagpole. The “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” wood-carved monkeys in front of the restaurant are expected to stay in place, overlooking the construction in front of them.
Costa said he hopes that people do not avoid Route 18 during the construction and that it will be better for customers getting in and out of his parking lot once the widening is complete.
Vincent Travi, owner and chef of Vin & Eddie’s Ristorante and Wine Bar across the street, said he expects the construction to be done most days before his customers come for dinner.
“We’re hoping for the best,” he said. “We don’t have much choice in the matter, so I resigned myself.”
Residents like the Vincents, who live near the intersection of Route 139 in Abington, down from the Turpels, are still upset about the anticipated turmoil.
“I don’t think it’s fair — we were here first,” said Meredith Vincent.
Her father, who turns 94 this summer, grew up and still lives in the house, she said.
“To me, [Route 18 is] going to end up like Route 1,” said her sister, Susan Purtle, who lives upstairs from Vincent.
The Turpels are still waiting to find out what the road widening will mean for them. The couple said they wish the project could include moving their house farther back on their three-quarters of an acre. Perhaps a small wall could be built to separate them from the road, Bob Turpel said.
“If a vehicle would go off the road, it would go through the front door,” he said.
Compensation for a swatch of land will not satisfy them.
“We love the house and everything in it,” he said. “I guess it’s like the old story — there’s no place like home.”