$18.5 million highway project attracts harsh criticism from Wareham business owners
An $18.5 million proposed overhaul of nearly 2 miles of road on Cranberry Highway in East Wareham has drawn fire from local business owners.
The project is set to bring major changes to an area from the Cranberry Plaza Shopping Center to the Red Brook Road intersection. Changes include the addition of a concrete median, new traffic lights, new sidewalks and improved crosswalks. It was originally scheduled to start in 2012, but funding issues caused a delay.
Because the road is state-owned, the reconstruction is not paid for by the town. According to state transportation officials, federal funds will cover 80 percent of the cost with the remaining money coming from the state.
On Thursday afternoon, Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials held a public information session in Town Hall for abutters. A second information session for the general public was held Thursday evening.
At the afternoon session, abutting business and property owners called for the project to be scrapped or scaled down significantly. Many were upset with state officials, saying they failed to factor in their concerns regarding the project, which has been talked about for the past 20 years.
“As business people, we fight every day,” said Cheri Lindsey, owner of Lindsey’s Family Restaurant. “If I ran my restaurant like the state and federal government, I wouldn’t be in business. This is just scary for us.”
Abutters said concerns included a loss of business due to the construction.
The area has struggled business-wise since 2008. That year, an exodus of businesses began 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 Aldi grocery store in November with more stores on the way.
Carrie Lavallee, a project manager with the Department of Transportation, told abutters the project will be disruptive, but drivers will have access to stores throughout construction, which is scheduled to start in spring 2019. Earlier this year, officials announced a 2018 start date. said she was unable to answer questions from the press when asked about the schedule change.
She said the construction schedule right now has workers on the job from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days a week. There is the possibility of some night work, she said. Lavallee added that the state may curtail construction during the summer tourist season for the sake of business owners, though that would lengthen the project.
“It is a balancing act,” she said.
Despite those reassurances, abutters were overwhelmingly against the project. They included L.J. Palazesi, who owns property at 3086 and 3088 Cranberry Highway, the small shopping plaza where Rent-A-Center is located. Palazesi said he spoke to seven of his tenants, and none of them were in favor of the reconstruction.
“They think it’s going to kill their business,” said Palazesi who asked officials to cancel the project.
Lavallee said she heard abutters' concerns. However, it appears the reconstruction will move forward despite those objections.
“We heard the business owners are very unhappy with this project,” said Lavallee. “We will have to hear what the general public has to say.”
Looking ahead, Lavallee said the state would start accepting bids from contractors in September, select a contractor this winter and begin work in spring 2019. A pre-construction information session is scheduled for March 2019.