The Herald News, Friday, April 13, 2012 – Page B1
Prospects remain alive for maintaining direct access from Interstate 195 eastbound onto Milliken Boulevard under the $180 million bridge improvements project slated to begin next year, officials said.
Opinions varied, however, following a 1½-hour meeting Wednesday in Boston that included officials from the Federal Highway Administration, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the state legislative delegation, congressional representatives and business interests that included the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Fall River Office of Economic Development.
The chamber, FROED and city businessman James Karam split the $6,000 cost to pay for engineering consultants Vanasse & Associates Inc. to submit alternative plans and analysis to the funding agencies.
Vanasse presented design plans advocating what’s called a “3/4 turn” from the exit ramp to meet highway officials’ safety concerns. That access allows for left and right turns onto Milliken, but not a full-turn intersection to drive straight ahead.
Those plans showing direct access onto Milliken Boulevard as a safe and feasible option for the Route 79 and I-195 interchange project generated a new round of concerns, said local officials attending the meeting.
The current design the FHA approved replaces Exit 5 eastbound access onto Milliken with downtown access onto Columbia and Pocasset streets, a plan local officials criticized as an impediment to business growth.
“My concern is seeing substantial migration of business to the suburbs,” said Karam, stating that consumers will go where there’s “ease of access.”
His complaints at a January meeting update led to the Vanasse study.
Karam said he was “frustrated” because he felt their consultants’ design answered questions about vehicles queuing up on the access ramp and site distance, but new questions emerged over safe “reaction times.”
State Sen. Michael Rodrigues, who organized the meeting, said, “I don’t know if they’re going to be able to prove that the 3/4 turn at Milliken Boulevard will meet safety standards.”
He said Vanasse’s first alternative “did not meet the standards.” He also said, “I am confident we’re going to work something out.”
Chamber President and CEO Robert Mellion also voiced optimism about design plans and a construction project that’s on a tight schedule.
“I walked out of the meeting feeling satisfied that we will come to a compromise that allows for safety while at the same time maintains access into the city core,” Mellion said. “They know we’re trying to remediate 60 years of unfortunate planning.”
The 1.5-mile project from the east side of the bridge features removal of the two-level viaducts to produce Route 79 and Davol Street access of four lanes at basically grade level, with new ramps and light signals to connect motorists and pedestrians to the waterfront from downtown.
But the worst part of the plan, said Karam and Kenneth Fiola Jr. of FROED, is that the design “makes it easier to get out of the city and harder to get into the city,” Fiola said.
Fiola said state and federal highway officials rejected the Vanasse design analysis “based on some site distance issues.”
Fiola said the highway officials “agreed to allow our engineers to meet with their engineers and they would get back to us with a determination by next Friday.”
While MassDOT officials could not immediately be reached for comment late Wednesday, Fiola said Frank DePaola, MassDOT highway administrator, “did commit if there’s an engineering solution they’d consider it as long as it’s not cost-prohibitive.”
Email Michael Holtzman at firstname.lastname@example.org