About 20 residents attended the public hearing held at the Berkshire Athenaeum.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state Department of Transportation's Highway Division is ending a preliminary design phase for $5.2 million intersection and signal improvements on First Street and North Street.
The design includes a roundabout at the intersection of First Street, North Street, Stoddard Avenue, and the Berkshire Medical Center entrance. It also converts North Street between Tyler Street and Stoddard Avenue into one-way northbound traffic.
The purpose of the project is to increase safety for all modes of transportation and improve intersection operation. The purposed safety improvements are for pedestrian, bicyclist, and vehicular safety and mobility and will span across about 1,750 feet of the streets.
A public hearing was held on Wednesday at the Berkshire Athenaeum to introduce the project and receive feedback from community members. Though some residents had concerns, the reconfiguration was seen as an overall positive attempt to mitigate traffic and increase pedestrian safety in the area.
About 20 community members attended the meeting.
"The project will allow for the safe passage of floor vehicles through one of the busiest series of intersections in Pittsfield which links to the largest hospital and employer in Berkshire County," Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales said. "While maintaining a desired level of service, and safely accommodating different modes of transportation."
The proposed improvements are listed as follows:
Intersection improvements at First Street and Tyler Street
Conversion of North Street between Tyler and Stoddard to allow one-way southbound traffic only
Intersection improvements at Charles Street and North Street
Intersection improvements at Springside Avenue and North Street
A roundabout at the intersection of First, North, Stoddard, and the BMC entrance
Construction of 5-foot bicycle lanes on all of the study area roadways with 10 feet of shared-use paths along parts of North Street
Reconstruction of all sidewalks and wheelchair ramps in the study area
The construction costs will amount to about $5.2 million of federally funded dollars. The Federal Highway Administration will contribute 80 percent of the cost and Mass DOT contribute the remaining 20 percent.
The design team aims to break ground in fiscal year 2023.
The pre-existing conditions that warranted the re-design include congestion, crash clusters, outdated vehicle and pedestrian signal equipment, missing sidewalks, and no bicycle accommodation.
Senior Project Manager at Fuss and O'Neill Engineering Firm Stephen Savaria — the design consultant for the project — explained that in the last three years there have been 18 crashes at the Tyler Street intersection.
"It's an average of six crashes per year, which compared to the total demand traffic demand in that intersection, millions of vehicles entering an intersection in the yeah, it's not above the average for a single control intersection in the region," he added.
The intersection of North Street, Stoddard Avenue, and the Berkshire Medical Center entrance on the other hand has had 13 crashes over the three-year period, which is double the regional rate for a stop sign-controlled intersection.
Savaria said this raises red flags about this "very kind of complex and unusual intersection." These conditions are what sparked the design for a roundabout in its place.
One of the most important characteristics of the project is to address environmental justice, he said, which is a civil rights policy that requires public funds when applied to infrastructure improvements to show that there isn't a disproportionately negative impact on disadvantaged populations in the area.
"Our contention is that, in fact, we will be improving a lot of things that impacted disadvantaged populations in this area," Savaria said. "By improving the condition of the surrounding public infrastructure, transportation, we're going to be enhancing mobility safety, we're going to have improved access in captivity for local residents, and we expect that these improvements will result in positive impacts on property values.
"It also will have positive impacts on the local environment by improving drainage and utility infrastructure."
Though there will be coordination with emergency response so that all residents and business owners will have access to their properties throughout construction, the major changes will warrant some traffic impacts. There will be multiple construction phases, temporary lane closures, and temporary pedestrian detours.
Debbie Dwyer of Dwyer Funeral Home on North Street expressed concern for the ability to pull out onto North Street and take a left turn after the changes are made. She explained that she and her employees don't want to put the limousines and hearses through wear and tear by driving them down Stoddard Avenue and asked the design team to consider this in their design, to which they obliged.
Another resident requested crosswalks on Charles Street for hospital staff to cross safely to the parking lot across the road.
Resident Nicholas Russo thanked the team for including modes of transportation for bikes in the design though he suggested two-way bike traffic in the designated lanes. He also suggested that the concerned citizens contact their city councilor about the addition of crosswalks on Charles Street.
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