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The Boston Globe

West

Arlington

Officials push ahead with Mass. Ave. project

A town election vote against a key portion of Arlington’s plans to reconfigure part of Massachusetts Avenue may not stop selectmen from pushing forward.

Selectman Kevin Greeley said he plans to present a letter for consideration by the full Board of Selectmen on Monday that would express continued unanimous support of the project, which would add bicycle lanes to a stretch of the busy thoroughfare.

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With the support of the full board, Greeley said, the letter would be sent to the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, and would ask the state and federal agencies to give their final approval of funding for the project despite the results from the nonbinding ballot question.

“I’m a little hesitant that the voters said they want four lanes, but in order for us to get this project and the money from Federal Highway and MassDOT, we need to go ahead with the three-lane design,” Greeley said.

Greeley’s approach has angered residents who oppose the plan, and who worked to get the referendum question on the ballot.

In the April 6 town election, Arlington voters narrowly approved the nonbinding measure asking if they favored keeping four vehicular lanes on Massachusetts Avenue in East Arlington. A total of 4,334 voters, about 51 percent, voted in favor of four lanes, and 4,097 voters, almost 49 percent, cast “no” votes.

Greeley said the ballot question was confusing, and it didn’t talk about other aspects of the project, including the addition of bike lane, sidewalks, and traffic light improvements.

Because the vote on the ballot question was close, Selectman Kevin Greeley (right) said, town officials believe the funding will be there for the project.

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But Eric Berger, a member of the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee that placed the question on the ballot, said it is insulting to voters for Greeley to say they didn’t know what they were doing at the polls.

“The only person who is confused is him,” Berger said.

Berger said the opponents of the project are now going to wait to see what happens, but they will continue to do whatever it takes to stop the Massachusetts Avenue proposal.

“We’re never going to run out of steam,” he said.

The $6.8 million project would reconfigure Massachusetts Avenue along a mile-long stretch in East Arlington. The road currently has two lanes in each direction.

Arlington officials have proposed a plan that would reduce the number of vehicle lanes, primarily on the westbound side of the avenue, in order to install bicycle lanes on each side of the roadway. The project will also include sidewalk and pedestrian crossing improvements.

Federal funding is expected to cover about 80 percent of the project’s cost, and state funding would cover the remaining amount.

Opponents to the project, including the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee, have said reducing the number of vehicle lanes would cause traffic congestion and cause public safety problems.

Maria Romano, a member of the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee, ran for the Board of Selectmen but lost to Greeley, who was elected to his ninth term. Greeley received 4,626 votes to Romano’s 3,355.

Greeley said both the state Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration had told the town they were watching the ballot question, and if there was a large majority of people who said they wanted to keep the four lanes, the agencies might withhold the funding.

Because the vote on the ballot question was close, and because support for the project was strong at a hearing in February, Greeley said, town officials believe the funding will be there for the project.

Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the project meets all safety and design requirements, has been publicly discussed, and is eligible for federal aid.

“MassDOT will be reaching out to town officials requesting they confirm their desire to move forward with the design that is on the table,” Verseckes said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday.

The Federal Highway Administration did not respond to the Globe’s request for a comment about the ballot question.

While the overall margin of victory for voters supporting four vehicle lanes was narrow, Berger said, the margin was larger in the seven East Arlington precincts that would be most affected by the redesign.

Berger said that in the seven East Arlington precincts, 1,594 voters , or about 56 percent, voted in favor of four lanes, and 1,273, about 44 percent, voted no on the question.

Dan Dunn, who last week was elected by selectmen to serve as the board’s chairman , said he does not think it was possible to get a meaningful result from a short ballot question that only addressed one part of the Massachusetts Avenue project.

Dunn said the election result had not changed his thinking, and he doesn’t think there will be any hesitation Monday for the entire board to vote in favor of proceeding with the current design.

“I absolutely think we should move forward with the project,” Dunn said.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.
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