Planned Sidewalk Questioned

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A public information meeting on the proposed new sidewalk connecting the north end of Main Street with neighborhoods to the east was held on August 10 in the Town Hall’s new meeting room. The four-foot sidewalk, as planned, will run along the south and east sides of the first stretch of Mapleton Avenue and along the south side of Thompsonville Road to where it will meet the existing sidewalk at Rawlins Brook Drive, close to East Street, North — for a total of about 1.6 miles. Its stated purpose is to connect Suffield communities and get pedestrians off the highway. Construction is expected in 2022, at an estimated cost of roughly $400,000. A recent ConnDOT grant will cover up to $400,000, with the Town paying any overage.

(This is different from the planned multi-use trail along Mountain Road, a wider path that will run from the existing Town Center sidewalk at Suffield Middle School out to Plantation Drive and Sheldon Street, where a crossing will connect to an existing Sheldon Street sidewalk that goes part-way to Suffield High School and an existing Mountain Road sidewalk that continues out to the Police Station. A short extension will connect to Spaulding School. Design of that trail is complete, and a construction bid request was to be published late in September.

Coming to Suffield last winter with extensive experience from her previous job as the assistant town engineer in Bloomfield, new Town Engineer Karen Isherwood was well versed in the practical aspects of the proposed sidewalk. So at the meeting, she handled with facility her virtual walk along the route, using the Street Views of Google Maps displayed on three big screens. Christian Alford, of Alford Associates, who have done considerable site development in Suffield, followed along with his big drawings. But the meeting didn’t go quite as Engineer Isherwood had expected.

Close to two dozen interested owners of property in the affected area were present. The new sidewalk would cross in front of their land, generally within the state right-of way, and many were concerned about troublesome aspects of the project, including the loss of their front yard space.

Engineer Isherwood had expected questions, and there were many, right from the start. Owners questioned why the walk couldn’t be located on the other side of the road, where there were fewer houses. “Not in my front yard!” Isherwood explained that all the additional neighborhoods that would benefit lay to the south and would be poorly served by a sidewalk on the north side. A number of owners were concerned about drainage, as the planned six-foot “snow shelf” of lawn between the sidewalk and the road would be graded to drain to the road, likely creating a dam against front yard drainage. Isherwood and Alford described drainage plans being evaluated. Elevation issues were troubling also in some specific problems involving driveways. And one owner, whose building sits very close to the road at Dunn’s Corner (where Thompsonville Road starts), will be faced with a very narrow “snow shelf,” or none at all, and would have essentially no set-back. There seemed no easy answer to that, unless the state highway could be reconfigured. Isherwood and Alford explained the detailed solutions that had been planned already for many of the problems.

Isherwood said that the design was nearing 30% completion, and she planned to work with owners to find the best solutions. But the contentious two-and-a-half-hour meeting ended in almost universal discontent.

Back to the drawing board!

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