North Amherst roads, sidewalks await state grant

  • North Amherst Library GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2017

AMHERST — A project to rebuild a North Amherst intersection and construct new sidewalks and walking paths remains in the planning stage, though the town’s attempt to secure a state grant to pay for the work is apparently being rebuffed.

While not officially out of the running for money from the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, Amherst officials say it appears increasingly unlikely that the town will get the money from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said the town has not received notice from the state office yet, though he described it as a situation in which “I’m not holding my breath.”

Municipal staff remains in close communication with the state officials about how to improve the proposal, said Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek.

The money is needed to bring Sunderland Road to form a T-intersection at Montague Road in front of the Riverside Park shopping plaza, and build proper sidewalks and walking paths.

The realigned roads would pass through the 0.81-acre site where Village Auto Service was located, immediately north of the North Amherst Library, property the town acquired for $675,000 in 2016.

The potential work is one complication in making improvements to the 1893 library building.

A petition article seeking to hire an architect to create designs that would make the building handicapped accessible and add a public bathroom, as well as make other improvements, comes before the third session of fall Town Meeting on Monday.

If the town doesn’t get the grant, it will be the sixth time in the past seven years that Amherst has been turned down in its effort to get money through the MassWorks program, including four proposals related to projects in the North Amherst village center.

Last year, $1.1 million was sought to design and provide money for new sidewalks and crosswalks on Montague Road and install fiber cables throughout the village center to provide high-speed internet and Wi-Fi to businesses and residences.

Previously, the town twice was turned down, in 2011 and 2012, for $2 million and $4.2 million, to pay for rebuilding Pine Street and adding new water and sewer lines below it, adding capacity for future development in North Amherst. Also refused was the town’s request in 2015 for $750,000 from the state to pay for the installation of new traffic signals at the main North Amherst intersection of North Pleasant, Meadow and Pine streets, and to bring upgraded high-speed internet to businesses and residents in that village center.

Amherst also lost out on a MassWorks grant in 2013, when officials sought $2 million to improve the village center near Pomeroy Lane and West Street

The only time so far that Amherst got the state grant was in 2014, when it was awarded $1.5 million to put utilities underground at the north end of downtown on East Pleasant, Triangle and Pray streets. The grant, delivered to town by former Gov. Deval Patrick, also allowed for the creation of the roundabout at the intersection of North Pleasant and Triangle streets that was completed this year.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.