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State Officials Still Awaiting BMC Intersection Area Redesign
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
08:03PM / Tuesday, February 21, 2017
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Changing traffic circulation in front of the hospital was cited in 2006 as a need but preliminary designs haven't been submitted for review. The project's construction will once again be delayed.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The project to re-do the intersections around Berkshire Medical Center has been pushed back yet again, as the design has not progressed enough.
 
The $7.1 million project for the Berkshire Medical Center area has been ranked as a top priority by Berkshire Regional Planning Commission but the design is too far behind to go to bid in 2018. The project has been 11 years in the making, after a 2006 circulation study identified it as a focus for improving traffic in downtown Pittsfield.
 
"We know the BMC area one is not going to be going in 2018. There is no way it is going in 2018," BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns said.
 
Peter Frieri, of the Department of Transportation's District 1, says the state has yet to see a 25 percent design. A project needs to be at 75 percent to be in the coming year's plan. 
 
"Until we get to 25 percent when we can see what is being proposed and what the impacts are, we don't know," Frieri said.
 
The project has been cited for a long time and eyed realigning Charles Street with Springside Avenue to confirm with a 2006 traffic circulation plan performed by Fuss & O'Neill.
 
Traffic on North Street would be aligned to send all traffic through the First and Tyler Street intersections and the left-behind second of Charles Street and the small portion of North Street would be abandoned — eliminating the fork in the road in from of the hospital. The intersection at Wahconah and Charles would then see new traffic signals.
 
In 2014, the City Council allocated money for the design work, which was coupled with funds from the state. The Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organization then pigeonholed the project to receive two years of federal funding starting in 2017. Last April, MassDOT reported that the design work hadn't progressed enough and had to delay that until 2018.
 
Now, the construction date is once again delayed as state officials still wait for design work. 
 
"Even the 25 percent hasn't arrived," said Transportation Planner Anuja Koirala, though Frieri added that he was told the 25 percent stage would be completed this summer.
 
BRPC staff ranked 17 road projects throughout the Berkshires for $40 million or so in federal funding over the next five years. In total there are $95 million of projects in line to receive funding. The Metropolitan Planning Organization has again started the process of figuring out how to spend those federal funds on transportation projects over the next five years.
 
The BMC intersection project had been ranked based on BRPC's criteria as the top project. 
 
Three other Pittsfield projects ranked just below that one — East Street from Lyman to Merrill Road, Merrill Road, and the intersection of Route 8 and Dalton Avenue. The East Street project also dates back a number of years and Frieri said the state is paying for that design and an engineer has been assigned to perform it.
 
But, it isn't programmed onto the five-year plan, so the urgency to produce a plan isn't in place to set a timeframe. 
 
The Route 8 and Dalton Avenue intersection project was identified as a "high crash" location. That is 25 percent design stage is expected this summer. The Merill road project is a brand new one, and Frieri doesn't expect the design for that to progress much this year. 
 
The intersections of South Main Street and Maple Avenue in Great Barrington was also identified as a "high crash" location and was added to the list of projects. That too is not yet at the 25 percent design phase but is scheduled right now for construction in 2019.
 
In Dalton, officials are looking to perform a $9.8 million Complete Streets project on Dalton Division Road. Only initial work has been done on that project. 
 
Karns said part of the issue when it comes to these projects is that there is only so much money going around and engineering adds up. He said he doesn't advocate for towns to spend design money until the project is put into the five-year plan. That's the currently status of the Dalton Division Road project. The town would need to design the project but can't be sure the construction funding will come through.
 
"I don't advocate that the community spends hundreds of thousands, in this case, a million to design project... to spend that money when we don't know if we will have money to construct... the designs go stale if they sit on the shelf," Karns said.
 
The only project on the list officials are confident can move forward is the Route 183 and Walker Street intersection in Lenox. That design is more than 75 percent complete and is on the list for 2018. 
 
A design firm is working on a project on Route 8 in Adams which is scheduled for 2020. 
 
"They don't have big issues there, it is just replacing what is there already," Karns said.
 
A project in North Adams for the Route 2 and Phelps Avenue intersection is scheduled for 2018 and transportation officials have received the 25 percent design and moving forward this spring. 
 
The Skyline Trail in Hinsdale is currently scheduled for 2021. Other projects in queue but not scheduled for construction include Route 23 in Egremont, a passing land on Route 8 in Lanesborough and Cheshire, Route 43 in Williamstown from the five corners to Meacham Street in Williamstown, Route 20 in Hancock, Stockbridge Road in Lee, Route 41 in Pittsfield and Richmond, and Mount Washington Road in Egremont. 
 
"Every project is different and every project moves at a different pace," Frieri said, adding that state officials hold an annual meeting to discuss each project's status.
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