Tonight I attended the Lowell City Council Transportation Subcommittee meeting on the Lord Overpass project. In attendance were six or seven representatives of VHB, the engineering firm hired by the state to oversee this project. Also in attendance were more than 30 Lowell residents, most representing groups or constituencies with an interest in this project.
The Transportation Subcommittee is chaired by Council Jim Milinazzo and has Councilors Bill Martin and John Leahy as members. Also attending the meeting were Councilors Rita Mercier, Corey Belanger, Dan Rourke and Bill Samaras as well as City Manager Kevin Murphy and various members of his staff.
The meeting commenced with a presentation by Tricia Donegan of VHB who stated they have not yet started the design portion of this project and they are anxious to hear the community’s input. VHB has been working in Lowell since 2009 on the Hamilton Canal project and has already done work on Thorndike Street, namely the new crossing lights/markings at the Gallagher Terminal and the new sidewalk along the South Common leading up to the Lord Overpass. She explained that the geographic scope of this $15 million Mass DOT project extends from the intersection of Thorndike and YMCA Drive to the intersection of Thorndike and Fletcher.
One portion of the project has already been designed and that’s the extension of Jackson Street. In fact, today was the day for opening of the bids and construction will commence as soon as the snow melts. Jackson Street, which currently runs parallel to Middlesex and ends at Canal Street, will be extended and will break to the right so that it’s aimed directly at Fletcher Street. This part of the project will bring Jackson right up to Thorndike, mostly to facilitate construction vehicle access to the site of the new courthouse, but they won’t break through onto Thorndike Street until the bigger project is underway.
The bigger project will include all new pavement of existing roads and new sidewalks that are made ADA compliant. As Ms. Donegan said, “Thorndike Street will stay the way it is just with new pavement.” One big change will be to the down ramp from the Lord Overpass heading downtown. That will have a second lane added with the right hand lane for traffic turning right onto the new Jackson Street and the Courthouse and Hamilton Canal District. On the other side of that portion of Thorndike Street, the current one lane for a left turn onto Fletcher Street will be expanded to two lanes for that turn.
(Now when I think of the Lord Overpass, I think of it as an elevated rotary. The engineers see it as “two bridges”, one connecting Chelmsford to Appleton and the other connecting the two parts of Middlesex Street. I do think that is an accurate description but it’s definitely a part of the engineering firm’s vocabulary so we should make it part of our’s).
As for these two bridges, they are structurally deficient so the project will replace not only the decking but the steel superstructure as well. They are acutely aware of how critical this place is to traffic so the roadways won’t be closed completely, at least not for extended periods of time, but there will be frequent lane closures. They also vowed to improve the sidewalks, the crossing signals, and the general walkability (and bikeability) of the Overpass, perhaps by squeezing the vehicle lanes closer to the middle (which they said shouldn’t be used by pedestrians in any case) to gain more space on the exterior sidewalks/bike lanes.
As for the schedule, a series of community meetings seeking input from the public will commence this spring. The design phase will take most of 2015. Construction will be conducted from 2016 through 2018.
Councilors then made some comments. Councilor Martin said this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to link the Highlands and Acre neighborhoods to the Hamilton Canal District in a way that’s pedestrian friendly. Councilor Leahy also said he was concerned about neighborhoods and walkability but he wanted them to be sure the vehicle lanes were wide enough to accommodate plowed snow. Councilor Milinazzo asked if they already had obtained the right of way for the Jackson Street extension (they have).
A number of residents spoke, most voicing their interest in improving the pedestrian accessibility of this area and welcoming the opportunity to discuss the design at future public sessions.
If you are interested in the future of the Lord Overpass, be sure to join the Facebook Group by that name. Also here are some previous blog posts on this subject:
“South Common, Thorndike-Dutton Corridor, Lord Overpass, etc” by Paul Marion
“Lord Overpass: A 150 Year History” by Chris on Learning Lowell
Also, read just about any of my Week in Review columns for the past six months. This Lord Overpass project gets mentioned in many of them.
Thanks to Sam Antonaccio for the snowy Lord Overpass photo