A conceptual design meeting was held on Tuesday evening, October 5, at Morse Pond School to introduce the Falmouth community to the proposed road designs as part of the Route 28 Corridor project.
The Department of Public Works hosted the meeting with Greenman-Pedersen, Inc., or GPI, the on-call traffic consulting group for the town. About 20 residents gathered in the auditorium of the school while Peter McConarty, director of public works, gave a brief history of the project.
It has been in the works for more than three years and it has multiple phases, with phase one concerning the area from Queens Buyway at North Main and Palmer Avenue, phase two being from Falmouth Heights to Sandwich Road, and phase three being from Sandwich Road to Ox Bow Road. The project is done in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, or Mass DOT, as Route 28 is a state road.
“While we had conversations with Mass DOT for section three, they commented to us that they had a lot of challenges with section two, which is Davis Straits,” Mr. McConarty said. “They had a lot of issues with traffic accidents, there were a few bicycle accidents, it’s hard to see, the roadway lanes aren’t really set up that well, there’s a lot of driveway curb cuts and openings at the mall. So they asked the town if we could move to section two and start looking at that.”
Town Engineer Jim McLaughlin also addressed the gathering and emphasized that the meeting was mainly to get their reactions and thoughts regarding these conceptual designs before a more formal proposal process begins.
GPI’s vice president and director of innovation John Diaz gave a presentation of the designs and highlighted each of the three “critical” intersections along Route 28 being looked at in phase two: Falmouth Heights Road, Dillingham and Spring Bars Road and Sandwich Road.
“We have looked at the traffic analysis for the critical intersections and gone through that process, so we have a good idea of how things work there,” Mr. Diaz said. “As Peter mentioned, there is a portion of this section with high crash rates and high bike crash rates down by Falmouth Heights Road and Dillingham. There was a road safety audit done for that this past summer. Right now the existing typical section is pretty simple: a 12-foot lane, a 6-foot shoulder, and a sidewalk.”
Mr. Diaz said that an important initiative of Mass DOT is to accommodate all road users—cars, bikes, and pedestrians—which the current layout does not do.
“We want to have some kind of physical barrier other than paint or pavement to separate the bikes,” Mr. Diaz said. “That was really the big thing that Mass DOT commented on when this concept was brought before them. They wanted to really provide better conditions for bikes along the corridor.”
The new layout unveiled at the meeting is more accommodating to all road users: it has the standard 11-foot travel lanes for cars and 5-foot shoulders but on the east side of the road from Falmouth Heights to Sandwich Road, there will be a planted buffer of about 5 to 6 feet and a 10-foot shared-use path for both bikers and walkers. On the west side of the road, there will be a 5- to 6-foot sidewalk. Shoulders on either side of the travel lanes will be for emergency conditions and breakdowns, while the shared-use path allows for unimpeded access for non-vehicular travelers.
While explaining the features of the new road section, Mr. Diaz said that Mass DOT is looking to implement it along all of Route 28 Capewide.
Mr. Diaz then went through the designs for each of the three intersections. The designs presented at the meeting would, ideally, bookend Davis Straits between two roundabouts—one at Falmouth Heights, another at Sandwich Road—and make Dillingham Avenue and Spring Bars Road a four-way intersection by aligning the streets on Route 28 and installing a traffic signal.
“At Falmouth Heights Road, what we’re looking at is doing a roundabout there,” Mr. Diaz said. “It frames the area, brings people into that area… and lets you know that you’re coming into a different area from the downtown.”
He acknowledged that a main cause of traffic in the area is that the drive-through lane of the Starbucks located in Falmouth Plaza often backs up onto the road. While there is nothing that can really be done about that, property-wise, Mr. Diaz said that they are exploring alternatives to mitigate that problem.
“At Dillingham, there’s a number of accidents out there,” he said. “It’s an awkward intersection. The side streets don’t really align, they come in at different angles so if you’re trying to pull out and there’s someone pulling out there, there’s always that battle of who makes the first left turn out of there. So what we’re looking at doing there is putting a signal in, creating two left-turn lanes on Route 28, and aligning the two side streets so they line up as a four-way intersection. With that, we’ll have full accommodations for pedestrians and bikes, we’ll have crosswalks, pushbuttons, pedestrian signals, and so forth.”
For the third intersection at Sandwich Road, two alternative designs were proposed. The favored option is a roundabout, and the second is a more standard T-intersection.
Because of the high-speed approach of Sandwich Road onto Route 28, the goal would be to provide better visibility and speed regulation of the traffic coming through the area. In teeing up the intersection to more of a right angle rather than its current stop-and-merge situation, drivers would have better visibility in both directions along Route 28.
A roundabout would also offer better visibility, with the added feature of maintaining a continuous flow of traffic and controlled speeds.
“Obviously it [would mean] more construction there but again, it kind of frames this corridor,” Mr. Diaz said of the roundabout option. “If you’re going north, it kind of breaks off segment three and gives it a little bit of a different character coming into that section, and it frames the commercial section with the two roundabouts. It’s something we’re looking at; it provides additional traffic calming and it keeps the traffic flowing through there.”
After the design presentation, attendees moved across the hall into the cafeteria where four stations were set up with full-sized prints of the designs, sign-in sheets, and sticky notes and pens for note-taking. GPI engineers were stationed at each of the tables to answer questions and take feedback. The environment was overall casual, with a much more natural flow of conversation than would be expected at a typical public hearing.
“We find this [setup] is better. People are more comfortable asking questions at a table than standing up at a podium or raising their hand,” Mr. Diaz said of the breakout session. “We’ve got a lot of good feedback and information from this. What we wanted to do was come in, give it a fresh look, and start from the beginning and have people voice their concerns, what they think works [or] won’t work.”
The general consensus from the crowd appeared to be a positive one, with many attendees engaging in active and lengthy conversations with both town employees and GPI engineers. Sticky notes with comments were left on the design plans around the room and hard copies of the presentation were available to take home.
“We’re here tonight just to give you an overview of where we are right now and take your comments [and] thoughts on what we have so far,” Mr. Diaz said before the breakout session. “Maybe there are things we haven’t thought of that would be of interest to you. We’ll go back after this meeting [and] depending on the comments, we may have to come back for another meeting. But the idea is we’d take what we have from tonight and we’d start to actually lay out the cross-section along the whole corridor, so we can see how it fits in and go from that point.”
As these are public hearings, residents will be notified of any further design meetings. The next steps of the project are still a ways away, but Mr. Diaz said that once a formal proposal process begins, the plans will be reviewed and subject to a hearing by Mass DOT.