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Fearing traffic congestion on Washington Street, Planning Board orders changes to business park plan


Purcell Construction’s proposal for a commercial campus off outer Washington Street could jam traffic in an already busy area by adding multiple private entrances, fear town of Watertown Planning Board members who reviewed blueprints Tuesday.

Facing the Summit Wood apartments, the 10-building commercial campus proposed by the Watertown developer would feature a layout similar to the Washington Summit medical and professional campus to the east. Nine commercial buildings would be located in the town, ranging from 4,000 to 8,000 square feet, and house small businesses and medical offices. In addition, a small portion of the site that is within the city limits calls for the construction of a restaurant, south of the intersection with a light at Washington Street and Hudson Lane. That restaurant would include an entrance/exit off Washington Street.

Town Planning Board members are concerned that two entry and exit roads designed off Washington Street to the campus, which include right-hand-only turns, would pose a traffic hazard by slowing traffic in the 45 mph zone. They made recommendations to address traffic concerns after reviewing a blueprint of the project presented by Richard R. Gefell, Purcell’s project manager.

Mr. Gefell was advised to consider changing the main entrance to the campus from Washington Street to Howell Drive and retain only one entrance/exit on Washington Street in the town. He also was advised to consider building an access road that would extend from Howell Drive about a half-mile to the south, creating another link to Washington Street neighboring the entrance of Widrick Auto Sales.

Town Supervisor Joel R. Bartlett said he is concerned that drivers traveling north on Washington Street, toward the city, would make illegal left-hand turns onto the two proposed entrances.

He advised Mr. Gefell to alter the plan so that most of the traffic flows into the development at the Hudson Lane intersection instead of Washington Street.

“There are certain times in the day that access on Washington Street is a nightmare, and if you have three or four cars turning left, there would be a major backup,” he said. “I don’t believe the DOT is amenable to any more curb cuts going off that hill, and I don’t believe they would approve two access points,” the supervisor said. “I would like to see the design show as much access as possible going onto Howell Drive, (encouraging) as much access as possible to come out of the traffic light at that intersection. If that’s included in the plan, then I would look more favorably at having access on Washington Street.”

Mr. Gefell, in response, said the state Department of Transportation does not anticipate the two proposed entrances off Washington Street to cause any major traffic blockages.

“I don’t envision this being a problem,” he said. “The DOT said we don’t need a traffic study based on what we’re going to put in. They would never let people take a left-hand turn in or out of there.”

But Mr. Bartlett, in response, said that drivers would still make left-hand turns into the development, even though it would be prohibited. He added that the town sometimes opposes projects that have been approved by DOT if there is a disagreement on negative implications.

“Right-in, right-out entrances on busy roads don’t work well,” he said. For example, “people are abusing the (right-only) entrance every day at the Nice N Easy with Tim Hortons” on outer Coffeen Street. “They will make a left-hand turn if it saves them time, and the same thing would happen” with this project.

Board member James T. Smith told Mr. Gefell that he is firmly opposed to the entrances planned off Washington Street. Instead, he said, Purcell Construction should consider extending Howell Road to connect near Widrick Auto. Purcell, which plans to continue developing land to the south, could benefit by building such a road at the beginning of its project rather than waiting for future development, he said.

“Maybe this is the right time to put that road in, and I’d like to see some real energy put into that plan,” Mr. Smith said. “That would relieve a lot of the traffic problems we’re talking about, and I think this is a good time to get this done. It would benefit your future development plans.”

Mr. Bartlett agreed that Purcell should at least consider extending Howell Drive.

“Access and egress would be greatly enhanced, and the road could open up that area for a lot of different” business prospects, he said. “I would like to see you come back to the board with a rough scheme of what that road might entail.”

Mr. Gefell agreed to develop a blueprint for the Planning Board to review at its Feb. 4 meeting, along with amending the proposal based on traffic concerns.

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