Citizens share High Street agenda
By KATE SPINNER
Daily News staff
Thursday, March 2, 2001
NEWBURYPORT -- The Massachusetts Highway Department has promised $600,000 to fix up High Street, but city residents say the state can keep its money if it refuses to do things right.
The City Council Planning and Development Committee, and Geordie Vining of the city's planning office held a public meeting last night to hear how the community envisions High Street's needs.
Vining said that his intention was to see how far Newburyport residents wanted to go in terms of improvements. He cited buckling sidewalks, cracked pavement, cramped trees, drainage problems, aging traffic signals, and an "unnerving" Three Roads intersection.
But referring to MassHigway's previous plans for solving those problems, Vining said, "I'm glad those plans did not materialize. I haven't talked to anyone in Newburyport who wanted to implement those plans."
Although Vining met with almost no disagreement, people expressed some reserve in dealing with MassHighway.
Stephanie Niketic of 93 High St. asked Vining, "If MassHighway will not do what we want, we will say no, right?" Vining said she was correct.
How the city would pay for the improvements, "that's the $8 million question," Vining said. He said MassHighway is the first option, and if the city and the state can't agree, the city will seek funds elsewhere.
"I don't want to kid anyone into thinking that there are lots of sources of funding out there," Vining said.
The approximately 60 people in attendance easily agreed on some basic ideas: High Street needs to be repaved, speed limits need to be enforced, trees need care, and original brick sidewalks should be retained.
Peter Erickson of 56 High St. offered several comments that met with no argument. He said homeowners could help the city by repairing their own brick sidewalks, that High Street should be skimmed and resurfaced to a level road bed, that curbs should be leveled, and that traffic at the Three Roads intersection should be slowed with cobblestone crosswalks.
Several people mentioned the need to curb speeding, but when Ward 3 Councilor Karen Kelley asked if anyone would like to see another traffic light, the crowd voiced a resounding "No."
Instead, residents spoke in favor of creative measures to encourage slower driving.
Mary Eaton of 39 State St., a member of the city's High Street Review Committee, said speed could be reduced by marking the lanes on either side of the road. She said that when she enters Newbury, the marked lanes encourage her to slow down, because the street seems more narrow.
Bob Uhlig, also a member of the Review Committee who resides at 10 Ocean St., added that the city should create a scenic gateway at the intersection. He said people would reduce their speed if they recognized they were entering a historic residential area.
In terms of beautifying the whole length of the historic street, some people mentioned that they would like buried power lines.
But, Councilor-at-Large Alan Lavender said, "Burying electric and phone lines is an example of something that is too expensive." He said that several years ago the city estimated the cost of burying power lines on High Street at $18 million.
Niketic said that underground power lines would cost homeowners an additional $2,000 apiece, to make the lines compatible with existing electrical services. On the other hand, she said buried utilities may be more economical in the long-term, because they require less maintenance.
Residents Jivonne Alley of 35 High St., Tom Jones of 132R Low Street, and Leslie Eckholdt of 36 Warren St., said buried power lined might be a good long-term investment.
Although some said they wanted underground power lines, everyone also spoke in favor of trees. Vining said that it is difficult to have both. He said underground lines would be difficult to route through existing tree roots, without killing the trees.
Richard E. Sullivan of 10 Congress St. said that Boston's power lines are buried, but "one thing you don't see in Boston is trees."
Referring to the large trees that lined High Street in his youth, Sullivan said, "I would like High Street restored to its historic character."
He added that Newburyport used to take better care of the trees. Several people agreed that the city needed a tree warden who knew how to prune trees around the power lines without damaging the trees. Some even suggested forming a tree committee.
"I have a tree outside my house," said Nigel Wood of 322 High St. "It's ripped to shreds by the power company, but it is still beautiful in the summer time."
Former Mayor Mary Carrier said, "One problem in Newburyport is the way the trees have been hacked to pieces."
Residents came to a consensus that part of the problem with the trees, the sidewalks, and the street drainage was due to lack of maintenance. Vining said, "deferred maintenance is not just a problem on High Street, but a problem throughout the city."
Other topics of concern were universal access and curb cuts. The state requires new curbs to be cut level with the pavement at the corners, but the sidewalks may not have to be widened. Residents voiced some opposition to widening the sidewalks, because it would alter the street's historic nature.
Bike lanes and National Scenic Byway status were also mentioned. Vining said the bike lane was a good idea, Historical Commission Chairwoman Nana Kennedy said that High Street's Scenic Byway status is in the works.
As residents spoke, Vining took notes on a flip chart. By the end of the night, he had gathered the thick stack of papers, and rolled them into a cylinder.
"In my mind the appropriate way to do this is to boil all this information down into a statement of goals, objectives, strategies and guidelines, and capture a general consensus on paper," Vining said.
He said his next step is to get the Review Committee back together to digest all the information.
"Sooner, rather than later, I feel we will be able to talk in a position of strength with MassHighway," he added.
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