East Wareham highway construction to begin this year for safety's sake
A long-stalled overhaul of Routes 6 and 28 in East Wareham is planned to begin this summer, with a $19 million project over two years to make the highway safer.
The project will bring major changes to the highway, which has seen several fatal crashes over the years. Additionally, officials are hopeful the improvements, while disruptive to businesses in the short term, will bring long term economic benefits to an area that has seen an exodus of businesses to West Wareham.
The plans were first unveiled in 2012. However, a lack of state funds pushed back the start date many times. Now, officials are ready to move forward.
The improvements will be made to Cranberry Highway between the separation of the westbound and eastbound lanes near the Cranberry Plaza Shopping Center and a point approximately 900 feet east of the Red Brook Road intersection. Construction will be done in two phases, the first in 2018 and the second in 2019, according to Selectman Alan Slavin.
The plan is to create two lanes going in each direction with a paved concrete median with sloped granite edging between them. The divider will stop people from cutting across the highway and making dangerous U-turns, Slavin said, while still allowing ambulances to cross over the divider, which will be around 4 inches high. There will be designated spots for cars to turn around in two or three spots in that stretch.
“That highway has been a serious issue for people getting killed and injured,” Slavin said. “It’s been on the list to fix the issue for probably 20 plus years.”
In October 2016, 56-year-old Ernest Raddatz of Wareham was struck and killed by a white Ford pickup truck while crossing Cranberry Highway. Police said the truck’s driver turned around after hitting Raddatz, leaving him in the middle of the road, and fled the scene. Raddatz was struck at approximately 8:30 p.m. and died less than hour later at Tobey Hospital. No arrests have been made in connection to the hit-and-run.
In May 2013, a homeless woman, Annmarie Rita, was killed by a car on Cranberry Highway. Rita was hit by a 22-year-old Wareham man, Eric Crowley, who was driving a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee. That incident followed another fatal crash that took the life of 59-year-old Barry Russell. He was killed on Cranberry Highway in April 2013.
Originally, the construction was scheduled to begin in 2012, but it has been delayed over the years. Town Administrator Derek Sullivan said this is because there were insufficient funds available for the state to complete the project at that time. Now, the money is in place so the project is scheduled to begin for real.
“I’m thankful to Selectman Slavin for really working on getting this through when it’s something that, if he had not been constantly following up, would not have been done,” Sullivan said.
The original project went down to the bridge by Buzzards Bay, but it was scaled down to the current plan to make it more affordable.
The design of the project will include bicycle accommodating shoulders and sidewalks on both sides of the roadway, according to Judith Riley of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Traffic signals will be upgraded at Cranberry Drive Plaza, Cinema Drive and Main Avenue and a new traffic signal system will be added at Red Brook Road. The traffic signal equipment will all include pedestrian indications compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The existing drainage system will be replaced with a new one and new signs and pavement markings will be added.
The changes will take some getting used to initially, Slavin predicted, but he said in the long run it will be safer for everyone. Half of the stretch will be completed during phase 1 and the second half in phase 2 in 2019. Wareham will not own the highway and will not pay for the construction. It is all done with federal and state funds.
There will be a public comment session on the project in February. The date is not set yet, but people are welcome to attend the hearing and ask questions about how things will proceed now that the project has been approved once it is scheduled, Slavin said.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation Highway Division anticipates scheduling public meetings for residents and business representatives in the near future to discuss the design, Riley said.
Director of Planning & Community Development Kenneth Buckland said the highway improvements are a step forward in making East Wareham attractive to economic development.
The area has seen an exodus of businesses starting in 2008 when Wareham Crossing first opened in West Wareham. TJ Maxx and Staples moved to the shopping center at that time. More recently, Walmart moved from East to West Wareham, opening a new supercenter. Wareham Marketplace, a shopping center located at the intersection of Tobey Road and Cranberry Highway featured the grand opening of an Aldis supermarket in November with more stores on the way.
Buckland said he’s hopeful that the vacant Benny’s, which recently saw its roof collapse during a snowstorm, will see some development soon. A Rhode-Island based real estate development firm purchased all of the former Benny’s stores. Development plans have not yet been announced.
Buckland said he subscribes to the “broken window theory” of development. Essentially, maintaining properties will generate more interest from developers. A revamped Cranberry Highway will aid that as well.
“You keep up the place and it will be more attractive,” he said. “We have to be diligent about the conditions and the perceived opportunities.”