New MBTA Crosstown Bus Line Proposal Brings Out Critics, Supporters To Public Meeting

Photo: Waverley Street

Last week’s public meeting which unveiled the MBTA’s revamped bus system gave Belmont residents a first look to proposed changes to the bus routes as well as a new line traveling through town.

Andrew McFarland and Olivia Mobayed from the MBTA came before the town’s Transportation Advisory Committee – the host for the July 7 virtual public meeting – to present the Belmont portion of the T’s Better Bus Project, the authority’s system-wide overhaul of bus service including current routes such as the popular 73 from Waverley to Harvard Square and the 75 from Harvard to Belmont Center. It was also a first look at the proposed 54 line, a new crosstown bus in which riders can travel into Arlington or head south through Watertown and Newton.

This plan is to ”rethink routes,” ”renovate and overhaul bus service” so that the public will find it ”simpler and easier to use,” said McFarland. For the MBTA, the meeting was an opportunity to present the draft to the community and receive feedback, he said.

See an earlier report on the changes to the Belmont-related routes here.

The big news was the first public revealing of the draft of the new 54 route, in which Waverley Street would join Lexington, Common, Leonard and Pleasant streets to create the Belmont portion of the new line from Arlington Center to the MBTA Green Line Riverside terminal in Newton. The 54 would replace the 554 – a six-day a week route that has infrequent times – that terminates at Waverley Square on Trapelo Road across from the Belmont Car Wash.

McFarland said the new 54 would allow for a “crosstown connection” where riders can travel directly to a desired location such as Arlington Center rather than take a bus into a “hub” such as Harvard Square to take a second bus to the destination.

The existing routes running through Belmont would see seven-day-a-week timetables with more frequent bus service as well as earlier start times and late night buses. The new plan calls of a return of buses traveling under the commuter rail bridge after two years when the introduction of new buses required routes to stay on the southside of the commuter rail line. Mobayed said the reason the routes would transit into Belmont Center is due to public sentiment. “They’d like it back” in the business district for convenience and safety, she said.

Olivia Mobayed from the MBTA’s Better Bus Project

The new routes entering Belmont Center via the commuter rail tunnel has been identified as a potential trouble point due to the size of the tunnel. Glenn Clancy, Belmont’s director of the Office of Community Development, said one of his concerns was if the two lanes currently under the bridge is reduced to one to squeeze the bus through the tunnel could result in major backups during the 90-minute rush hour.

Yet a test run along the route in which Mobayed took with MBTA bus instructors and training staff ”got there just fine.” McFarland said, at this time, “all stakeholders are working together to get under the bridge.”

“So, there are some challenges – including the “tight” corner at Common and Waverley – “to make the trip safe but it is feasible,” said McFarland.

When the meeting was open to public comments, critics of the new 54 route were quick to point out a list of issues using Waverley Street, eager to point out a litany of limitations and problems from traffic bottlenecks, impassable sections, afternoon and weekend parking along Town Field, blind driveways, crowds of children close to the road, unshoveled sidewalks, as well as an onerous steep incline at Edward Street that one resident called ”dangerous.”

“I am a proponent of public transportation,” said Debbie Dobbins of Waverley Street, ”but I see a serious degrading of the quality of life.”

What many opponents viewed as a compromise alternative route was for the bus to travel the length of Pleasant Street from Waverley Square to the Arlington line at Route 2, which would have the added benefit of skirting the commuter rail tunnel. But Mobayed said that proposal would severely limit the number of people and neighborhoods that would benefit from a new bus line including the town’s distressed business center and Belmont’s veteran’s public housing location.

For those who said they welcome a bus route close to residents and the business community, the challenges of a Waverley Street as well as getting three bus routes under the Belmont Commuter Rail tunnel shouldn’t be any more difficult than what the T has done for decades in urban communities such as Malden and Somerville where narrow streets and bridges are a norm.

Proponents of the new route were eager to have the route approved. Belmont High student Sophia Jensen told the meeting the route would be “extremely beneficial” for students who depend on parents to drive them and allows for much needed independence.

Brooklyn native Ade Baptista said he had ”heard a lot of concerns about safety” on Waverley Street, an issue that he believes doesn’t acknowledge that the MBTA employees are “professional drivers,” something he has seen using the system.

”This will be a boom for the town” as cars will be taken from street and a great number of people will use the bus to travel into Belmont Center. ”People will support that.”

While the pros and cons made their points, McFarland said before the proposal can move forward, it still will need to clear the T’s own safety committee which is somewhat down the road.

”This is a draft plan, just that,” said McFarland.

New Rink Committee In Sprint To Meet Aug. 1 Deadline; Public Meetings Set For July 14, 20

Photo: The design of the new municipal rink (The Galante Architecture Studio)

While the majority of building committees’ work resemble a long-distance race, the newly-formed Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee is like watching Usain Bolt in full flight as the 12-member committee attempts to sprint the project onto the Nov. 8 ballot.

Facing a list of tasks that would make Hercules blush, the committee is seeking to create a completed design of the structure, a plan to revamp the fields and manage parking while coming up with a detail price tag for the entire project, all of it done in less than a month.

”We have 25 calendar days to meet our [Aug. 1] deadline,” Committee Chair Mark Haley said at the committee’s Wednesday, July 6 meeting that focused on the latest project feasibility study. And during that compressed interval, the committee is looking to introduce the project to residents.

That part of the plan starts with a pair of public meetings – on Thursday, July 14 and Wednesday, July 20, sandwiched between critical joint meetings of the Select Board and School Committee on July 18 and an informational get-together with the Planning Board on July 19. The meeting on Bastille Day will be dedicated to the rink design, while the 20th will highlight parking and the three playing surfaces ”west of Harris Field.”

The committee has been meeting weekly almost since it was created on June 13 during Town Meeting and will continue through July with the specific goal of having a debt exclusion ballot question to fund the rink before voters in November. The rush is required as the Select Board faces an August 1 deadline to make a final decision on debt exclusion measures to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman who will seek state approval to place any on the general election ballot.

And while the committee could present what it hopes is a complete package, that November vote is far from a certainty as all that work will need to come up to scratch by the expectations of the Select Board.

“It may be very difficult to meet that next timeline … because there’s a lot that needs to happen between now and Aug. 1,” said Mark Paolillo, the board’s chair, pointing to a volumes of recommendations it must produce to the Select Board and School Committee to meet its mandate.

”I’m just suggesting that, perhaps, it could be challenging,” said Paolillo.

As of the July 6 meeting, the rink design is fairly straight forward with architect Ted Galante using the steel skeleton of the existing structure, more detailed – but not yet finalized – design with the building expanding more in the front and the rear with the programs enclosed with the building creeping closer to Harris Field bleachers in an attempt not to impact the fields and eliminate a small alleyway between the two structures.

Take a peak at the July 6 municipal rink feasibility study here

Galante of The Galante Architecture Studio brought to the July 6 meeting a blueprint that severed the project into two parts with the majority of the program – the rink, community room, restrooms, hockey locker rooms – to be built in a first phase with the Harris Field locker rooms for fall and spring sports left for a later date with separate funding.

The dual construction phasing was quickly scuttled by the committee. “If it’s not done now, it will never happen,” said Ann Marie Mahoney. “It needs to be a complete project” brought before the Select Board and the public.

The full range of locker rooms are necessary as the new Middle and High School only has two full-scale locker rooms, for boys’ and girls’ varsity a limit imposed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority in its partnership with the town. According to Superintendent John Phelan who met with Haley and School Committee Chair Meg Moriarty the day before, the four lockers at the rink will barely meet the demands of the school’s athletic teams.

While the design is moving forward, the west fields and just how much parking is proving to be stickier issues to resolve. The fields as well as the parking component were “inherited” by the rink committee when they were orphaned by the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee which abandoned the fields and the associated parking from its original plan to reallocate $5 million to its contingency funds.

“This complicates the picture,” said Tom Gatzunis, the committee’s owners project manager, with the committee forced to add the scope of the fields and the need for parking under its watch with a substantial increase to the building’s price tag and complexity.

With the BMHSBC washing its hands of West of Harris Field, the need for 120 parking spaces negotiated with the Planning Board more than four years ago has been taken off the board. With the ability to start anew, Galante said earlier analysis of the rink revealed a demand for 88 spaces on game days. Galante’s current intention is to utilize the ”jug handle” parking across Concord Avenue from the Underwood Pool along with new spaces where the White Field House currently sits.

Members noted that parking will be “a very hot button issue” for neighbors as they fought hard to take vehicles off side streets. Frank French, Jr. pondered the idea the committee could simply leave parking the way it is currently with patrons and fans using on-street parking along Concord Avenue when using the rink. The committee believes it will have a more detailed parking plan by the time it meets with the Select Board and School Committee on July 18 and for a critical Planning Board meeting the next day.

With the elements of the project increased with the addition of the fields and parking, the price tag on the expanded rink has increased by a third from the first estimate in of $19 million, currently in a range between $28-$32 million. Dante Muzzioli said the project must come in below $30 million, a price point that, if that number was breeched, would prove difficult for residents to support.

“We are going to get one bite of the apple,” said Muzzioli.

The members of the new committee are chair Mark Haley, Dante Muzzioli, Anthony Ferrante, Stephen Sala, Frank French, Jr, Catherine Oakes, Megan Moriarty, Bill Shea, Tom Caputo, Dan Halston, Ann Marie Mahoney and Dynelle Long.

Town Negotiates Contract With Superior Officers Association; Three Unions Left To Be Settled

Photo: Contract settled with Belmont Police Superior Officers

Three down, three to go as the town reached a multi-year contract with another of it employee unions announced on Monday, June 27.

The Belmont Police Superior Officers Association reached an agreement on a new three-year contract to be in effect from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2023. The parties agree to three 2 percent base wage increases from 2020 to 2023, according to Shawna Healey, the town’s Human Resources director.

The contract also provides education incentives and adds the Juneteenth holiday as a paid holiday. As part of working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the town is providing a one-time payment of $2,000 for active employees who worked from March 2020 to March 2021.

There are 16 members in the association representing Belmont Police sergeants, lieutenants and captains.

Street, Sidewalk Construction Contracts OK’d; Work Begins Mid-July

Photo: Highland Road is one of the roads to be repaired

At its Monday, June 27 meeting, the Belmont Select Board approved the fiscal year 2023 Pavement Management Plan, the annual capital expenditure to conduct major roadway reconstruction and repair.

The contract, which was rewarded to Newport Construction with a low bid of $2,467,070 on the job estimated by the town at $2.6 million, comes in two parts: the first is $39,851 for sewer repairs before the road work starts and $2,127,219 on road construction. In addition, the contract calls for vertical curbing on Sycamore Street as well as creating two raised tables on School Street as enhanced safety measures.

Roadwork will begin in July, according to the contract.

The ten roads which will see work beginning this summer are:

  • Amelia Street between Orchard and Benjamin,
  • Hillcrest Road between Goden and Common,
  • Cedar Road between Goden and Common,
  • Beckett Road between Concord and Watson,
  • Clairemont Road between Prospect and Rutledge,
  • Fairmont Street between Goden and Common,
  • Highland Road between Fairmont and Cedar,
  • Van Ness Road between Belmont and Stults,
  • Gorham Road between Palfrey and Hammond, and
  • 800 feet of Marsh Street west of Evergreen to the Park Avenue Circle.

“You selected a set of streets that are a wonderful examples of the best of the worst,” said Board member Roy Epstein.

Along with the annual street repairs, the town awarded a contract to low bidder Sacca N and Sons Construction for $339,680 to repair and construct cement and concrete sidewalks and granite curbing through town.

What’s Open/Closed This 4th Of July, Trash Delayed A Day, Where Are The Fireworks Close To Belmont

Photo: 4th of July fireworks on the Charles river, Boston, MA 2011-07-04 Pablo Valerio

Today, Monday, July 4 is when the country observes Independence Day, which the country commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Although the holiday wasn’t made an official nation-wide holiday until 1870 (and not a paid holiday for federal workers until 1941), Massachusetts has recognized the day as an official state holiday since 1781.

For most Belmontians, the most impactful result of the holiday is that trash and recycling pick up will be delayed a day.

Here is what’s closed and what’s open on the 4th of July.

  • Belmont Town Hall and town offices: Closed
  • The Underwood Pool: Open to members and those purchasing day passes
  • Belmont Public Library: Closed
  • State and Federal government offices: Closed
  • US Postal Service: Both Belmont post offices are closed; express delivery only
  • Banks: Closed
  • Retail stores: Open at owner’s discretion
  • Supermarkets: Star Market on Trapelo Road in Waverley Square in open regular hours.
  • Coffee shops: Starbucks and Dunkin’s on Trapelo Road will be operating their regular hours.
  • CVS: 89 Leonard St. (Belmont Center) Store 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Pharmacy 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • 264 Trapelo St. Store 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Pharmacy 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For those who want to do some day traveling using public transportation, the MBTA is running on the following schedule:

  • Subway will run on a modified Saturday schedule until 1 p.m. After 1 p.m., the subway will run on a weekday schedule.
  • Bus and the RIDE will run on a Sunday schedule.
  • Commuter Rail will run on a weekend schedule. The Fitchburg line will be held for 30 minutes after the end of the Boston Pop fireworks.

Where to see firework celebrations near-ish to Belmont:

  • Boston/Cambridge: along the Charles River at the Esplanade, 10:30 p.m.
  • Newton: Albemarle Field/Halloran Sports Complex, 9:30 p.m.
  • Wakefield: Lake Quannapowitt at the end of Beacon Street, 9:30 p.m.