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Pittsfield city council hears details on MassDOT’s East Street reconstruction project at sole July meeting

Pittsfield, Massachusetts city hall.
Josh Landes
Pittsfield, Massachusetts city hall.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council held its only meeting of July Tuesday night.

At the meeting, the body approved three orders acquiring properties adjacent to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s reconstruction of East Street. One of Pittsfield’s largest thoroughfares, the roadway stretches through an industrial area along the perimeter of the former General Electric campus that dominates the city’s east side.

The city offered councilors a presentation on finer details of the state’s plans for the project.

“This is the Merrill Road Bridge. This is state right of way, and it starts pretty far back on the bridge. They're going to merge the two lanes down to one ahead of the traffic signal. You can kind of see this is where it bends over the rail and straightens back out. And then here at the intersection, single lane through, stays single lane, two through lanes going back east, dedicated right turn lane. This exists, this lane configuration is more or less as it exists. They're getting rid of one lane here," City Engineer Tyler Shedd. “Then when you get to the intersection of Woodlawn, again, the bike shared use path is up here. It crosses over. There's two new bus stops. The dedicated right turn onto Woodlawn, left turn onto Woodlawn, which aren't there now, there's space for it, but it's not clearly designated as such. And I should say too that all of the easements that need to be acquired on the PETA properties and the GE properties were acquired by the state on behalf of the city, because they can't be taken by eminent domain, due to the consent decree, it has to be by agreement, and the state was already needing to negotiate with both of those two entities, and sort of felt like it was just simpler on all parties if the state just negotiated for all those properties throughout the whole project.”

Shedd then directed the council’s attention to East Street alterations closer to Silver Lake.

“This is where a lot of the change people will feel is happening," he told the body. "Single lane, buffer, bike lane, sidewalk, the shared left. It's, I think I was mistaken in my email to you, it’s not- Curb to curb isn't remaining the same, but back of sidewalk to back of sidewalk across the street is essentially the same. I mean, you can see there's a difference here of what maybe is six inches by and large. It’s sidewalks being completely replaced all the way through, the green belt is going away for the buffers to the bike lanes. Essentially, that's a one-to-one trade off.”

Ward 1 councilor Kenny Warren, already bracing for backlash to the plan, asked the city to clarify who is officially responsible for it.

“Where does the line, demarcation from where the state designed to where the city designed, so when the cascade of criticism comes in, we can point to the fact that certain things were not our choice,” he asked.

“This entire project is designed by the DOT and their selected designer," said
Commissioner of Public Works Ricardo Morales. "We have input in the sense of, it is our right of way, but we don't have the final calls on any designs similar to other state-funded projects- Even when we are the proponent and we select a design firm and we run the design, we still have to get approval by the state and meet their criteria when they fund the construction of them, and that's going to be relevant, as Tyler Shedd mentioned on the continuation of this project, not only because it needs to match the design, but also because it is funded by the state and federal governments. At this point, it's at about $8 million, no money put down by the city other than designing.”

Warren, a veteran of fielding scathing feedback directed at the city council, offered a gloomy forecast for the plan’s public reception.

“Yeah, I just want to make sure I guarantee you, there's going to start being criticisms about the blending into a single lane, the turn lanes, the shared path," he sighed. "I can go on and on. And it's going to be that the city of Pittsfield, once again, is screwing up one of their major roads because they don't know what they're doing. So, I wanted to make it clear what, who designed this.”

The council – except for its absent vice president, at-large representative Earl Persip – unanimously approved the taking of the properties.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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