Residents seek to balance intersection upgrades with preservation of Sunderland character

A single-lane roundabout proposal for the center of Sunderland.

A single-lane roundabout proposal for the center of Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Jason Schreiber of Stantec presents possible redesign scenarios for the center of Sunderland at the Sunderland Public Library on Thursday.

Jason Schreiber of Stantec presents possible redesign scenarios for the center of Sunderland at the Sunderland Public Library on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Those in attendance for a presentation about the future of the center of Sunderland at the Sunderland Public Library on Thursday.

Those in attendance for a presentation about the future of the center of Sunderland at the Sunderland Public Library on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Jason Schreiber of Stantec presents possible redesign scenarios for the center of Sunderland at the Sunderland Public Library on Thursday.

Jason Schreiber of Stantec presents possible redesign scenarios for the center of Sunderland at the Sunderland Public Library on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

An aerial view of the center of Sunderland.

An aerial view of the center of Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 04-11-2024 6:31 PM

SUNDERLAND — With Stantec consultants back in town to gather feedback on potential changes to downtown Sunderland, streetscape improvements, traffic-calming measures, multi-use paths and other similar infrastructure were at the top of residents’ minds at a recent public visioning workshop.

While there were a variety of ideas supported and proposed by the dozens of residents in attendance on April 4 at the Sunderland Public Library, a common thread was clear: Improvements to the intersection of Routes 47 and 116 are desired, but not at the cost of the character of downtown Sunderland.

Stantec consultant Jason Schreiber and Lorin Starr, chair of the town’s Village Center Committee, said the workshop, and the process as a whole, is about taking an active role in the future of Sunderland’s downtown. Instead of letting the town adapt to the world around it, residents and stakeholders can be proactive and put Sunderland in the best position to thrive.

“One of the things that’s happened is quite evident, to me, in your village center. It’s that you haven’t changed, you kind of let things happen. The only thing that’s changed is the region grew and you kind of took it on the chin,” Schreiber said.

“I’m just trying to suggest to you the types of tools, between mobility and land use, that might be an opportunity for you to say, ‘OK, we understand the region is growing, but let’s do it on our terms.’”

The Village Center Committee has been working with Stantec since last fall to come up with a vision of what improvements or changes could be made to downtown Sunderland to slow down traffic, which will draw more people into local businesses and improve walkability and safety for pedestrians.

Much of the focus has been put on the intersection of Routes 47 and 116, where roughly 18,000 vehicles pass through each day. Of those thousands of vehicles, about 75% of them are making “pass-through trips” starting and ending outside of Sunderland, according to Schreiber.

The safety of the intersection is also a key focus of residents and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which has the final say over any project because the intersection is made up of two state routes.

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In response to safety concerns, there are two competing proposals for reworking the intersection. The first is “Signalized+,” which would improve pedestrian crossings and implement some form of traffic-calming measure, such as multi-use paths or narrower lanes. The second is a single-lane roundabout, which would replace the traffic signals and the turning lanes.

“We are more than just a crossroads, there’s a spirit that lives in Sunderland,” said resident Craig Felton, adding that general improvements to the intersection would be his preference for slowing down traffic. “Forget about the roundabout.”

Residents were also invited to share feedback using sticky notes posted on the early concept drawings from MassDOT, with feedback split on both designs. Signalized+ saw support for pedestrian safety, as vehicles would be required to stop through red lights and crossing signals, while a roundabout would place the responsibility on drivers to see pedestrians. The roundabout, though, saw some support for keeping the small-town character of Sunderland — the town had one in the mid-20th century — as it could be spruced up with plantings or other decorations, while also slowing down traffic.

“We are fortunate to be a biking destination/hub. [It would be] foolish to not include biking lanes to encourage folks to bike and hopefully stop for a meal/coffee,” one sticky note reads under Signalized+.

“The whole idea of a roundabout is that traffic does not stop. Super dangerous for pedestrians, even with yield signs,” another read underneath the roundabout drawing. The writer of the note summed up numerous others’ thoughts with one word in capital letters: “NIGHTMARE.”

Resident feedback is encouraged for the next two weeks and folks are invited to stop by the Sunderland Public Library, 20 School St., to jot down their thoughts and add them to the boards. The library is open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Schreiber said they will collect the feedback from last week’s visioning workshop, as well as additional feedback submitted over the next couple weeks, and return to Sunderland in the late spring with some recommendations for the community to consider.