|Pittsfield Council Approves Walden Lane Traffic Measure, Turf Field|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
02:36AM / Wednesday, January 09, 2019
|Tuesday's City Council meeting touched on an array of topics.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council spent much of its night Tuesday revisiting previously approved contracts.
It began with an issue of a traffic study. The residents of Walden Village had previously petitioned the council for improvements to the intersection of North Street and Walden Lane. The subdivision is home to mostly elderly residents who voiced fear about pulling onto the main road.
Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy said he opted to contract Fuss and O'Neill to do a traffic study to see if a stop light would be feasible there but it was determined that the intersection did not meet requirements to do so.
The recommendations called for a new speed limit sign in the area and residents pushed, and the department agreed, to have strobe lights on it to help calm traffic. The City Council approved the order but not before a lengthy discussion about the use of a traffic study.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell said there are intersections throughout the city that ward councilors have asked for improvements too and none of those received a traffic study. He pressed Turocy on the cost of it, which was later said to be $9,900. Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood said no additional spending was made on that and the study is part of the department's budget.
Connell, however, questioned the consistency of the use of such studies saying there have been a low number of accidents at the intersection while places like Elm and Williams Street or Holmes and Williams never received an outside study. The study showed only seven accidents reported being linked to that intersection.
"Five out of seven don't seem to be related to the intersection," Connell added, citing that four of them were rear-endings and one was a pedestrian/bicycle.
Turocy, who has the authority to authorize such contracts, said he is generally against speed studies because it can be a situation of "be careful what you wish for" in that the study could ultimately lead to a higher speed limit.
But, with Walden, he felt an answer wasn't so clear and that a traffic light could be needed and the city needed the justification to install one.
"We were exploring to see if it was possible and it didn't meet the warrants," Turocy said.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi joined in the inquisition, prodding Turocy about the process to hire an engineer, to which Turocy responded that it is under the discretion and budget of the department.
Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo, however, also questioned the process and asked about getting similar studies on Cheshire Road. Turocy responded that Cheshire Road is handled by the state but he could ask state officials for such a study. Mazzeo was also disappointed that the study did not call for anything more than a sign.
"I wish we got more bang for our buck with answers coming back," Mazzeo said.
Councilor at Large Peter White, however, sided with Turocy saying upper North Street is a "complicated stretch of road" and a more in-depth look should be had.
"I trust the judgment of our commissioner and engineer as to when something needs to be sent out and when something can be done in house," White said.
Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon, who sponsored the petition, said she is glad that the city identified the problem early and took a proactive approach to determine a better option before something bad happened.
It was authorized as a capital expense that was later determined not possible because the money was going to an outside entity. Kerwood proposed using free cash instead and two requests -- one to rescind the previous authorization and one to use free cash -- came to the council.
Councilor at Large Earl Persip, however, asked the council to delay the release of the funds. Persip emphasized that he supports the field but wants to see contracts in place that both ensure Pittsfield youth sports programs will have access to the field in the future and that local programs get a discounted rate to use the field.
"I just want something guaranteed that the youth of Pittsfield will be able to use it," Persip said.
BCC President Ellen Kennedy said the college is working with the city on an intergovernmental agreement that will cover both of those. She said those heading the turf field are also working to revamp the fee structure to recognize the input from major contributors.
"We are closing in on an agreement that I think would address all of your concerns," Kennedy said.
Councilors Anthony Simonelli and Kevin Morandi both pressed Kennedy and the city's athletic director on the use of the field, questioning the amount of usage, fees, costs, and operations.
"We've got skin in the game with the $200,000 and the Community Preservation [Act] funds," Simonelli said, siding with Persip. "I think there should be a different price for city programs,"
Morandi voiced concern about the future of the field and also supported looking for some agreement keeping it accessible for the city's youth.
However, Kennedy said the college wants to release the bids for the remaining work at the field soon in order to get the best bids. Persip requested a delay until Jan. 22, to which Kennedy said she'd agree if that's when it would be approved.
"We have counted on this money from an agreement we made a number of years ago," she said.
Mazzeo sided with Kennedy, saying if it wasn't for the oversight of the bond authorization, the City Council wouldn't even be having the conversation again. She reminded the council that the city doesn't own the field and that there have been plenty of times when Pittsfield has awarded funds to private projects without having the ability to manage it.
White said he is confident that the contracts will include the concerns of Persip and didn't want to hold back on a project that "seems like a win for the city."
Ultimately, the City Council approved the work by a 9-1 vote, with Councilor John Krol absent and Persip in opposition.
The night came to a dramatic conclusion when Connell asked for a petition from resident Craig Gaetani to have a third-party review of the wastewater treatment center project design. The contracts were awarded last week
and ground is expected to be broken on the $51 million project next week.
Connell, however, felt a question of having another independent review merited conversation.
Councilor President Peter Marchetti did not. Marchetti felt Gaetani had strayed too far from the topic when he began to talk about the project of the 1980s and ruled him out of order. An argument ensued and a quick motion to adjourn ended the meeting by a 5-4 vote. Connell continued to debate with Marchetti over the issue after the meeting.