Sunnside Ave Sidewalk Replacement - Oct 15, 2018

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Meeting in Thompson School Cafeteria, with town engineer Wayne Chouinard presiding. Also attending from the town were DPW director Mike Rademacher and tree warden Tim Lecuivre. Approximately 20--30 residents attending.

The town had been considering a sidewalk replacement on the east side of Sunnyside Ave. The main obstacles are trees and root heaves. In order to create an ADA-compliant sidewalk, the town would have to remove approximately 16 street trees. A few are in bad shape and should be removed anyway, but the majority are healthy enough to live for a few more years. The town must repair the sidewalk in a way that's ADA compliant, because some of the funding sources can only be used for ADA compliant projects.

The tree warden suggested removing the sidewalk on the east side of Sunnyside, planting grass, and making the west-side sidewalk ADA compliant. There's a gap between what the residents want. Most residents prefer ADA-compliant concrete sidewalks with granite curbs, even if that means taking down all the trees. Approximately four residents favor the Tree warden and DPW plan of removing the sidewalk and planting grass. The purpose of tonight's meeting is to talk about alternatives, and hopefully arrive at something that residents accept and fits within the town's maintenance budget.

This year, the town has CDBG and $300k of other funding budgeted to sidewalk repairs. In general, the town tries to perform maintenance on the poorest quality sidewalks. Sunnyside's sidewalks fall into the category of poor quality. Root heaves make the sidewalk impassable for a wheelchair, and these conditions are almost uniformly present along the street.

The tree warden explains that street trees are protected by MGL chapter 87. Street trees belong to the entire community, and the entire community has a say in what happens to them. MGL Ch 87 has been on the books since the 1890's and has basically been unmodified since the early 1900's, when the law was amended to mention cars.

With respect to Sunnyside: some of the trees are unhealthy and should be removed. Others are healthy, and will take a tree hearing to remove. During a tree hearing, a single objection by any resident will block a tree from removal, but that decision can be appealed to the Select Board.

This past weekend, the town started installing sidewalks in the commercial section of Sunnyside Ave, between Broadway and Michael St.

There's a question about ADA compliance. Since the town is using federal funds, any construction must be ADA-compliant. The current standard for new sidewalks is five feet wide, with a cross slope of less than 1.5% (a slight cross slope helps to shed water). Any longitudinal change of 5% or more is considered a ramp, which requires installation of a railing. ADA's minimum requirement is four feet wide, but the statue permits a three foot width to get around impediments.

If the trees stay, will the roots continue to push up over time? Yes, they will.

A resident asks if tree roots can be cut to accommodate the sidewalk. The tree warden says that roots can be trimmed, but not cut back completely. We'd have to cut them back completely to accommodate a new sidewalk.

There's a question about asphalt vs concrete. The town would use asphalt for any repairs. It allows more give than concrete slabs.

One resident (a landscape architect) offers a creative solution: bumping the sidewalk out around trees. She shows pictures of a Cambridge location where this was done. She also suggests using flexi-pave to bridge around the tree roots.

The town says that they do not have the budget to replace the entire sidewalk with concrete slabs and granite curbs. Asphalt curbs will likely be possible. The town doesn't want the repair to cause a plowing hazard.

What's the expected lifetime of a sidewalk? With no trees and proper drainage, a concrete sidewalk should last around 80 years. Asphalt sidewalks have a shorter lifespan -- perhaps 25 years or so.

Whats the remaining lifetime of our street trees? The tree warden says it's impossible to answer, because of the number of factors that can influence tree health.

Some residents are disappointed that concrete sidewalks are not an option. There's a request for a long-term strategic plan, rather than a short-term fix.

There's discussion on the costs associated with tree removal. The town charges $375/dbh inch for removal of a healthy street tree. (I think that's what goes into the tree fund, and doesn't include actual removal of the tree or stump). Tree hearings have a $100 administrative fee, which basically pays for two weeks of newspaper advertising.

At this point, we have two competing plans. Most residents want an ADA-compliant sidewalk, but the town doesn't have the budget, and there's a political challenge in removing so many street trees. The town would like to remove the sidewalk and plant grass. Most residents don't like the idea of having to cross the street to use a sidewalk, especially in the winter.

Wayne proposes a third option -- phased construction. The town could replace the sidewalk where there are no street trees (i.e., on the North section of Sunnyside, where the trees have already been removed). As trees die off, more sidewalk can be built. This idea seems more acceptable. The town will work on a more concrete plan, and send notice to residents.