Metro

Newton wants to make it easier to zip around town

NEWTON — It will become easier to get in and around Newton in the coming years if all goes according to a transportation strategy announced Monday by Mayor Setti Warren.

The plan calls for spending $9.3 million a year over the next decade to repair 276 miles of local roadways, more than a third of which are structurally damaged, according to a recent assessment.

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“It’s a tremendous amount of work and it’s a tremendous amount of money,” said Maureen Lemieux, the city’s chief of staff. “But we as a city are so behind with our road conditions that we need to accelerate the work that needs to be done.”

The transportation strategy also includes plans to invest in smart parking strategies, explore partnerships with ride shares and shuttles for shared transit, and develop a bike-share program.

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“This plan focuses on what we need to do for the residents now and the residents 25 years from now,” Warren said in an interview. “I have really pushed our team not just to look for short-term solutions, but ones that will put us in the best place in the future.”

The transportation strategy, unveiled as part of the city’s capital improvement plan Monday night, aims to make traveling through Newton safer and more accessible, while also reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

The plan is broken into 10 “priority actions” aimed at optimizing existing infrastructure and creating new transportation options within the next five years, but other long-term goals stretch for the next 25 years.

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Improving the quality of the city’s roads and sidewalks is a major focus of the transportation strategy. The city has spent $3.4 million annually on road repairs in recent years.

Until recently, all evaluations of Newton’s road quality were done by city employees who made visual assessments of the surface condition, said Jim McGonagle, commissioner of the Department of Public Works.

Last year, the city enlisted StreetScan Inc., which uses vehicle-mounted sensing technology to detect roadway defects and then rates the surface on a “pavement condition index” scale. The company evaluated 276 miles of road this past spring, including 201 miles of local roads and 75 miles of arterial roads.

A rating of 72 is considered industry standard, which many roads in Newton did not meet.

The company’s findings, which Warren said were “not surprising,” showed that the average rating for Newton’s local roadways was 59.3. In addition, 35 percent of the city’s roads (or 99 miles) were structurally damaged, with ratings of less than 55.

Ashton Avenue, for example, received a rating of 35, and Winchester Road was rated at 39. The average rating for the city’s arterial and collector streets was 69.5.

StreetScan Inc. has worked with the city to draft a 10-year, data-driven plan for repairing the city’s roadways. Roads will be repaired based on the severity of the condition and other construction projects in the area.

“We have a lot of construction going on, so we wanted to coordinate that for balance and not gridlock the city,” McGonagle said.

Other priorities include optimizing signals to reduce traffic, investing in smart parking strategies, and exploring partnerships with ride shares and shuttles for shared transit. The city will also develop a bike-share program by identifying a service provider in the next 18 months and will create on-street bike parking facilities.

“It’s long overdue, and I’m glad they’re taking the initiative to address these things that weren’t addressed for a long time,” said Councilor Allan L. Ciccone, Jr., chairman of the council’s Public Safety and Transportation committee.

The city will also invest in the development of its village centers, such as West Newton, where construction is planned for next summer. The city will also revamp village centers in Newtonville, Washington Street, and Newton Corner in the coming years.

In the past, state aid was the sole source of funding for road repairs. But in 2013, voters approved a tax override to provide an additional $1 million annually.

Warren said these projects are possible because of the work the city has done in the past seven years to eliminate the structural deficit and improve the city’s financial reserves. Funding for this project will come from debt-financing, budget surpluses, and financial management — not from an override, Lemieux said.

Allison Pohle can be reached at allisonpohle@gmail.com.
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