Jul. 22—MANCHESTER — More than a dozen residents from Gardner Street and the nearby neighborhood spoke out against installing a 6-foot path on a stretch of the road during a public hearing Wednesday, though several said the road improvements would make the street safer for both pedestrians and drivers.
Members of the Engineering Division held a public hearing Wednesday for the $900,000 road reconstruction project.
According to information from the town, the project includes constructing a 6-foot-wide asphalt path on Gardner Street between Fern and Line streets. In addition to the path, the project would include reconstructing a portion of the roadway on Gardner Street to widen it and install concrete curbing. The project also would include removing utility poles, trees, signage, and other items now along that stretch of Gardner Street.
Since the project was announced, dozens of residents in the Gardner Street neighborhood have expressed concern about what it would do to the area.
The Engineering Department made some changes to the project after hearing from residents during the first public hearing in February, so Wednesday was another chance for neighbors and town officials to discuss the project.
"We received over 60 written comments — one of the most commented projects in recent times," Town Engineer Jeff LaMalva said. "You guys are very passionate about the project, and the feedback has been great."
As part of the changes made following initial public comment, the road will be widened to 18 feet rather than the originally proposed 24 feet.
Grading and other changes also were reduced, LaMalva said.
Regarding the path, LaMalva said that its inclusion is part of Manchester's Complete Streets Master Plan, which asks town officials to consider such multiuse paths and walkways when planning roadway projects.
The road reconstruction project is funded through a 2019 public works bond package approved by voters.
Final design and permitting by fall 2021.
Project out to bid in winter 2021-22.
Construction begins spring 2022.
LaMalva emphasized that the 6-foot-wide path accounts for just about 7% of the $900,000 total cost of the project.
"It's using public funds and making accommodations in these projects for pedestrians and bicyclists," LaMalva said.
Several residents spoke about the current character of the neighborhood and the desire to preserve its rural feel.
Many people mentioned that they felt a path so close to their property lines would hurt their property values.
For some, the removal of trees and green space to build the path was an issue. Resident Maggie Peretto spoke about the negative impact further developing the area would have on bird and animal habitats. She said the largest species of woodpecker in North America can be found in Manchester along Gardner Street.
"This area is a beauty," Peretto said. "Let me tell you, we do not have many areas like that in Manchester."
Peretto said that in addition to losing trees and green area, widening the road would cause drivers to increase speeds, causing more animal deaths.
"Stop this project, protect wildlife," Peretto said.
Others said that bicyclists now have no trouble maneuvering on Gardner Street. But resident Steve O'Neill disagreed.
"When I look at this project, my main concern is safety, and that's pretty much it. I try to take emotions out of it," O'Neill said.
O'Neill said that there are several places on Gardner Street where the curves combined with a narrow road create a safety issue.
He said this new path would be for the safety of children and older people who want to walk up the street without having to avoid traffic.
"Just because it hasn't happened yet, it doesn't mean it's not going to," O'Neill said. "That's the town's job — our safety, health, and welfare. It's not about 'jeez, is the path going to be in front of my house or not.'"
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