Archive 2008 - 2019

$1,400,000 for Downtown?

by William Dowd

Note: The author is a member of the Holliston Finance Committee. The opinions expressed here as his alone and should in no way be attributed to the Finance Committee.

In about two weeks – October 27 to be exact – Town Meeting will start and residents will be asked to approve a proposal from the Selectmen that calls for spending about $1,400,000 – give or take a couple hundred thousand – to install three sets of traffic lights in the downtown area and reconfigure the roads, sidewalks and parking. Don’t be lulled into comfort by the $275,000 on the Warrant. That’s just to do the final engineering and design specifications so that a contractor can be hired to actually do the work estimated at an additional $1,100,000 to $1,400,000. The proposed designs and price tag detail can be seen at the Town’s website

Even though only $275,000 is currently on the draft warrant, the real question is “Should we proceed to spend about $1,400,000 to re-do the downtown area and install traffic lights?” It makes no sense to approve the $275,000 for all the prep work, if we’re not going to actually do the work. So far, the Selectmen have not said how the project would be paid for. While it might be possible to change priorities and come up with the $275,000 in two weeks, without a plan for covering the full cost, it’s just not prudent or practical to proceed.

But before we get to how to pay for it, we should stop and ask at least two questions:

Will it really cost $1,400,000 to get this done? The consultants hired by the Selectmen produced two very comprehensive and well thought out options. But they were both very similar. And you have to wonder if they were confused and thought Holliston started with a “W” (Weston, Wayland, Wellesley). I know you can’t just buy some poles at Home Depot, put them in the ground and hang lights on them, but I’m just not sure it will take $1,400,000 to get us what we NEED in terms of pedestrian and traffic safety. Nobody likes more studies, and we all know this has been kicking around for years. I just wish the consultants had produced multiple choices across a wider spectrum of features and costs so we’d be able to decide how much of a job we really wanted and could afford.

How are we going to pay for it?  The Town does not have $1,400,000 laying around looking for a home. Already, several priority projects put forth to the Finance Committee are not being recommended to funding primarily due to lack of funds: replacement of an aging HVAC unit for the High School Gym, resurfacing of the track at the high school, replacement of the aging computer server at Town Hall, among others.

During the FinCom discussion this past Tuesday, it was suggested that this whole project be put before voters at Town Meeting in May of 2015 as a debt exclusion override. This means that we’d wait to do the final design and engineering until after we know if the community supports borrowing the $1,400,000 or so in a ballot question at Town elections in May of 2015. And if the community does not support it, we won’t have spent $275,000 for work we won’t do.

At its meeting on Wednesday the 8th, the Selectmen decided to keep the $275,000 article on the October Town Meeting warrant for now, and work to see if there’s a way to keep the project moving without waiting until next May.

There has been much publicity about this project, and many opportunities for residents to be heard. However, as is true with most things, many folks don’t engage until there’s a price tag. If you’ve been waiting for the price tag, it’s out there now. Residents need to stay engaged so that if this does go to Town Meeting on October 27, more than the usual 110 voters can be present to decide what to do next.

Comments (4)

Thank you Bill for providing a detailed explanation of the plans so far as to how the selectmen want to proceed with the issue of traffic safety in the center of town. The message that Bill wants us to hear is that the proposal has two parts to it, and that it could be foolish for Fall Town Meeting to approve spending $275,000 for design plans and engineering, if our town is not fully prepared to pay the additional cost of more than a million dollars to actually get the lights, crosswalks and sidewalk work completed. What happens if Spring Town meeting rolls around and voters don't approve the additional money for the project? I guess what would happen is a wasted $275,000 to add in with all the money that has been spent for studies that led to nowhere. Yes, we need a better solution than the crosswalks that we have now, but voters should be presented with a clear picture of what the true cost will be.

pay attention to town meeting | 2014-10-13 18:18:24

Bill, have you been to all the downtown meetings? This thing is long overdue! We need to do something before people get seriously injured or killed!

Alm | 2014-10-13 11:44:53

1. Does anyone know exactly how much $ we wasted putting up the useless, dangerous crossing lights that no one can see and the speed bumps that no one slows down for? Was an actual study done or did someone just make up this solution on their own? 2. Can anyone refresh our memories as to how the current system was put into place? Did we vote on it or did the powers-that-be take it on themselves to do this? 3. A one-time cost of $1.4 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the legal fees that the town will pay when (not IF) a pedestrian is seriously injured or killed trying to cross Washington St. (And before you say that the town wouldn't be liable for an accident, I'd be willing to bet there are a LOT of lawyers out there who would take a look at that insane crossing system and argue that the town should be held responsible,)

LizE. | 2014-10-11 10:00:30

OK, now someone wants to tell us that we might be able to save a few pennies on a project that is LONG OVERDUE? I know it sounds like a lot of money, but just look at the contract and you'll see where the money goes. If you haven't had any work done on your house recently you'll learn that nobody replaces a roof for $1000 or a faucet for $100. Hiring experienced people to do a complicated job costs money, and erecting traffic lights, repaving the street , reconfiguring the traffic patterns, and replacing the sidewalks is all going to take time. It's not like plunking down a couple of poles, installing a light and calling it done. The time to do a job like this is NOW, before the town has a lawsuit on their hands from an injured or dead pedestrian.

Hungry Hippo | 2014-10-11 07:12:13