Legislators Get Quaker Meetinghouse Sidewalks Project Back On Track
By: Mary Stanley
"It's the best news of the year," said Susan S. Sullivan of Quaker Village Lane, when she heard that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation approved a $960,000 project to construct sidewalks along the entire length of Quaker Meetinghouse Road, from the corner of Cotuit Road down to Route 6A.
Ms. Sullivan has been lobbying for the sidewalk for more than five years. With four children who range in age from six- to 14-years-old, she wanted a safe route for them to walk or ride their bikes to various places along the route, including the Oak Ridge School. She said now that her oldest child will be attending the high school in September, she would have no problem allowing him to walk there if a sidewalk is in place.
“I have never felt comfortable with them walking on the shoulder of that road because it’s very busy. And the traffic has gotten heavier and faster since we moved here. I want my children to have a way of getting around town other than me driving them. Being able to walk or bike to a destination creates a sense of independence for them,” Ms. Sullivan said.
She said this sidewalk project will benefit not only children in town, but adults who jog along the road or who may want to walk to areas such as Canterbury or Heritage plazas. She said the sidewalk will provide a safe route.
“I see so many people walking and biking along that road, but it is extremely dangerous. It is an accident waiting to happen,” she said.
She said as Sandwich developer Thomas Tsakalos begins his project to renovate his Cotuit Road plazas and construct a new development on 24 acres of land that he owns inside that South Sandwich commercial property, there will be even more demand for a safe route that encourages bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
Mr. Tsakalos’s plans call for bicycle and pedestrian paths. Ms. Sullivan said a sidewalk that leads to that type of development will tie in nicely.
Ms. Sullivan began her quest to have sidewalks constructed along the entire length of Quaker Meetinghouse Road in 2007 with a plea to the board of selectmen, which at the time included now State Representative Randy Hunt.
With $260,000 in traffic mitigation funds available from the Cape Cod Commission—money that is raised from fees collected for review of projects that are categorized as a development of regional impact (DRI)—the town used the money to construct a sidewalk from the corner of Route 130 and Cotuit Road to the corner of Quaker Meetinghouse Road and Cotuit Road. But that is where the sidewalk ended. A lack of funds prevented further construction along the road.
When Mr. Hunt moved up the political ladder to State Representative two years ago, he began pressing the DOT for funds to complete the project.
Mr. Hunt credits former State Representative Jeffrey D. Perry with starting the conversation about the project and getting money earmarked for it 2008. Mr. Hunt said that an earmark does not necessarily mean that the project will be approved.
"An earmark is no guarantee that the project will get funded. You have to push and push and be a real nudge so that the squeaky wheel syndrome takes over," he said.
And that is exactly what he and Senate President Therese Murray have been doing for the past two years.
Senator Murray explained that even though there was a bond approved for projects such as this in 2008, all of that money was not spent in that year. "There is a cap on how much of the money can be spent on capital projects such as this each year," she said.
Mr. Hunt led a campaign in which he asked residents living on the road to write letters to him supporting the project and explaining the need for a safe alternative transportation route on the road, which he then passed along to the DOT.
"I got about a dozen letters," he said.
In March of this year, the project was on the DOT's agenda for consideration, but at the last minute, Mr. Hunt said, it got tabled.
He explained that DOT officials did not feel that the project met the state's Complete Streets program which favors projects that have defined bicycle and pedestrian paths on the road.
But the town's Director of Public Works Paul S. Tilton sent a letter to the DOT explaining that the project does indeed meet the criteria for the program.
In his response, Mr. Tilton wrote, "The Complete Streets concept involves broadening the focus of roads to
make them more livable, safer and welcoming to all users, including pedestrians, bicyclist and public transportation users. The sidewalk will be 6 feet wide, larger than typical sidewalks, in effort to better accommodate more users. The proposed sidewalk incorporates design elements consistent with the American with Disabilities Act. Ramps, spatial needs and other sidewalk elements will meet ADA compliance standards and provide better accommodations than currently provided for those who use wheelchairs and other assistive devices."
Mr. Tilton also pointed out in his letter that the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority now offers a fixed route service that travels along Quaker Meetinghouse Road, making stops at various areas along the route, including the Sandwich Council on Aging and Stop & Shop Supermarkets. He said the transit authority also provides "flag down" service where riders can get picked up outside of the fixed stops. Unfortunately, safe pedestrian accessibility is not provided on Quaker Meetinghouse Road, hindering the effectiveness of this service, he wrote.
"The town made a good case and we were able to use their arguments to get this project moved along," said Senator Murray.
But it was not until two weeks ago when the Senate President happened to be speaking with Secretary of the DOT Richard A. Davey, that she was finally able to convince him that the project was a worthy one.
"When I had a face to face conversation with him about the importance of this project, he agreed," Senator Murray said.
"That conversation is what pushed this project into the end zone," said Mr. Hunt.
Today, Senator Murray, Representative Hunt along with selectmen will hold a ceremony outside of the Human Services Building on Quaker Meetinghouse Road marking the approval of the project.
"I will definitely be there," Ms. Sullivan said.
The next step is engineering designs need to be submitted and approved by the DOT.