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City’s concerns over traffic, pedestrian plan slows progress on overlook park

Brigid Archibald
Connector Editor 

Pedestrians and drivers should plan ahead for delays in their commute or to change their commute in the coming weeks as construction begins on a new Northern Canal Overlook on the corner of Pawtucket Street and University Avenue.

Construction of the park had been slated to begin the week of Nov. 11, but the project is on temporary hold as the contractor and the city negotiate the proper traffic and pedestrian detour plan. Adam Baacke, the executive director of planning design and construction, says they hope to have a resolution early this week and to begin mobilization by the end of the week and demolition either that weekend or the next week.

The project includes the demolition of the two buildings currently sitting next to the University Avenue bridge at 193 and 199 Pawtucket St., the construction of a safer walkway for pedestrians, a park space overlooking the Northern Canal and eventually an outdoor exhibit, made in collaboration with the Lowell Historic Board and Lowell National Historical Park, that Baacke says will provide an interpretation of the area’s history.

“When completed, the Northern Canal Overlook will greatly enhance the safety and comfort of the more than 7,500 pedestrians who pass through this location each day when classes are in session,” Baacke said.

Demolition and removal of debris will take about three weeks, and the building of the pathway and the park will take up the remaining duration of the project. Despite the delay, Baacke says, the project should be fully functional in January when students return to school, provided weather does not cause delays. The insulation of the exhibit and planting of greenery are likely to occur later in the spring.

“We definitely want to encourage drivers to seek alternate routes,” Baacke said. “In any scenario, that right turn lane will be completely taken within the construction site and this temporary adjusted sidewalk. [Drivers] will be reduced to two lanes. What is now being discussed is whether they will be reduced to slightly less than two lanes.”

Originally the university had planned to have students cross the street where Father Morissette Boulevard meets Pawtucket Street. Baacke says that the plan is likely to change as the contractor and the city discuss the appropriate detour plan. Now they are considering providing a pedestrian walkway in one of the travel lanes. Another lane will be closed down to bring in trucks for the job.

“We are recognizing that pedestrians, students particularly, do not really have an alternative route to seek,” Baacke said. “They have been the priority in terms of planning and trying to figure out this traffic management plan is.”

Construction times have not been confirmed but with more space on the road being taken up it is likely they will be limited during peak traffic hours to minimize the impact. Due to a city ordinance no construction can start before 7 a.m., but Baacke says that construction may actually start later than that to avoid impacting the morning rush hour. There is a possibility that demolition will take place on Saturdays but that remains up to the contractor the university has hired.

“It is unfortunate that there will be some inconvenience, during this construction period, but the final product should actually result in dramatic improvements for all,” Baacke said.

This project goes hand and hand with the cities current project on the Pawtucket Street Bridge next to East Campus. Baacke says the bigger picture is to work with the city to one day have a shared-use path, a wide pathway all the way from East Campus to South. The university currently has proposals out to design firms to complete the designs on the potential project so that they can put the project in the queue to receive funding for the construction of the project. Baacke says it has been a positive collaboration with the city on that project.

“The city’s interests, in this case, are very well aligned with the students’ interests. We support that. We obviously want an official project done as soon as it can be,” Baacke said. “Ultimately the real priority is on safety and if a little bit of delay to the start of the project or the duration of the project ensures that there is better safety for everybody then it is absolutely worth it.”

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