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Town seeks feedback on Ayer Road repaving project

At a June 22 public discussion meeting hosted on Zoom, citizens will be asked to express their opinions on three different designs for a proposed renovation of Ayer Road and to provide further feedback. The work would be funded with a grant from the TIP (Transportation Investment Program). During a June 9 interview, Department of Public Works Director Tim Kilhart shared information about the proposed project and the upcoming meeting, which was originally scheduled for March 25.

All three proposed designs involve repaving Ayer Road from the bridge over Route 2 to the Ayer town line, installing a pedestrian and bicycle path near the road, and slightly realigning the road along its length. They differ in which side of the road the path would be on and how wide the lanes would be.

According to Kilhart, the project is estimated to cost about $6 million, which is far more than Harvard’s ordinary roadwork budget could handle. To fund it, Harvard has sought assistance from the TIP, a federal funding program from which towns can request grants. According to Kilhart, the TIP normally grants funding only to towns that have already completed the engineering work for their projects. To this end, Harvard allocated $300,000 at the 2019 Annual Town Meeting and has another $75,000 (in Article 9) on the 2020 Spring Town Meeting warrant.

Kilhart said progress on the project has stalled during the COVID-19 outbreak. TEC, the engineering company Harvard has hired for the project, completed work up to the 10% design milestone by the original March 25 meeting date. Kilhart is wary of doing any further engineering work before receiving public feedback, because the engineering work would have to be redone and money would be wasted if any changes were made.

In past years, Harvard has considered various methods to reduce the speed of traffic along Ayer Road, including the addition of a traffic circle. The three proposed designs make use of a traffic-calming measure called “road dieting,” which refers to narrowing the travel lanes to reduce the speed of vehicles. The designs do not include any other traffic calming measures, including a traffic circle.

According to Kilhart, the TIP will not fund the project if it includes a traffic circle. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, MassDOT, has a series of mandates that dictate when certain road features are appropriate to build. To add a traffic circle or stoplight to an existing road, there must be an intersection with a high volume of traffic along both of the two intersecting roads. None of the roads intersecting Ayer Road has sufficient traffic to allow such a traffic feature to be built.

When Kilhart presented information about the proposals to the Select Board at its June 16 meeting, members’ opinions were split. Kara Minar and Stu Sklar were disappointed by the lack of a traffic circle, arguing that Ayer Road required strong traffic calming measures. Lucy Wallace and Alice von Loesecke voiced support for the existing plan, emphasizing the need for external funding to repave Ayer Road.

The public feedback meeting will be hosted on Zoom Monday, June 22, at 7 p.m. The TEC engineers will present the designs and the rationale behind each one before opening public comment. Additional information about the meeting’s structure is not yet available, but citizens can check the News and Announcements section of the Planning Board’s webpage on the Harvard town website for a link to the most up-to-date information on the meeting.

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