High Street
an american legacy
Past threats and Future Challenges
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The picture to the right shows the corner of State and High Streets, circa 1900. It was obtained courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, at the Cushing House Museum, 98 High St., Newburyport, MA.

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The city of Newburyport is presently at a crossroads with regard to High Street. The Corner of State and High St.Like many cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts, Newburyport is under assault from the automobile. Today's healthy economy, together with Newburyport's reputation as a desirable community within reasonable commuting distance of Boston, have conspired to put growing numbers of cars, busses and trucks onto High Street. The result is an increase in speeding, congestion, noise and dirt. It has been more than 30 years since the road surface was fully reconstructed. Repairs have been confined to a series of limited surface paving and as-needed pothole repair. The roadbed is in serious need of repaving
In a response to a grant request written by the City in January 1995, the solution to many of these problems was presented in the form of a proposed project from the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) (see renditions of the original plans). The MassHighway plans were presented to the City in February of 1998 and universally protested and rejected by the residents of the City. A "pave only" or "curb to curb" compromise was reached by the City and MassHighway in September of 1999 and was embraced with enthusiasm and releif.
In February of 2000, Mass Highway was asked once again by the City of Newburyport to enter into negotiations and to put aside the "curb to curb" compromise which the administration felt did not "sufficiently address the significant needs of the corridor". The city also asked MassHighway to revisit what the City called the "hazardous conditions" addressed in the original grant which had "only worsened".
In December of 2000 the City met with MassHighway to discuss going forward to come up with a new set of plans for High Street. The Mayor has formed a review committee. On March 1, 2001 the City Council called a citywide meeting to discuss what residents would like for the future of High Street. (See Newburyport Daily News report and editorial)
Newburyport is again at a crossroads. The roadbed desperately needs to be repaired. However, one questions the wisdom of approaching MassHighway for such a historically sensitive project, especially given its past unfortunate history with the street and its rigid adherence to strict state and federal roadway standards - the reason High Street was previously named an Endangered Resource by Historic Massachusetts.
There are really two issues:
  1. How to preserve an historic road
  2. How to bring a road into the 21st Century and deal with contemporary transportation and ADA issues.
The hard fact is that these two goals are very difficult to reconcile. The danger in emphasizing bringing High Street into the 21st Century is that the historic nature of the road could be lost. If the emphasis is on preserving and enhancing High Street, the road could once again be returned to its former glory with a healthy canopy of trees, brick sidewalks, and period lighting. It would also retain all of the subtle and irreplaceable historic elements that have evolved slowly over time and tell the story of the generations that have gone before us.
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