Society for High Street


High Street planning, surveys continue
Daily News staff
Tuesday, August 21, 2001
NEWBURYPORT -- The Massachusetts Highway Department is sampling the condition of High Street to determine the level of repair necessary, said Geordie Vining, senior project manager in the Office of Planning and Development.
At the same time, a long-time activist in the movement to preserve High Street's historicity [sic] has resigned from the Mayor's Ad Hoc High Street Committee, concerned that Mayor Lisa Mead will accept money from the state to make repairs that would change the character of the street, regardless of the desires expressed by the committee and the community.
But Mead said that she is not prepared to accept funding for a project that the community doesn't like. "We will accept those funds which will do the work that we (the state and the community) can both agree to. We will not accept funds to do things that we disagree on," Mead said.
She said that she is disappointed that Mary Eaton has resigned. "I was surprised, because she was helpful," Mead said. Due to Eaton's resignation, Walter Clay, 203 High St., has been appointed to the committee.
Mead also added that no major changes have occurred in the committee recently, or in the city's dealing with MassHighway.
Vining, who has been working directly with the High Street Committee and the highway department, said that few negotiations have taken place, because the scope of work necessary has yet to be determined.
The city is still waiting for sub-surface information to become available from a series of boring samples that were taken recently from High Street.
The boring samples will show what is feasible to do, Vining said, "and do we have to do full depth reconstruction, or can we grind down and reclaim and do an overlay, or can we grind down enough to deal with limited curb reveal?"
Vining said that it is obvious that the street's pavement and sidewalks need fixing.
Earlier this year, MassHighway expressed interest in working with Newburyport to retain the character of the historic street, Vining said. The department told Vining earlier this year that it was interested in using Newburyport as a model for a new approach to Rural and Historic Roadways.
Also, Vining said that the Essex National Heritage Commission is developing a "Regional Scenic Byway Initiative" that could help fund the retention and improvement of some scenic and historic aspects of High Street.
He said that he is not sure how much money will be available from the commission, but that the funds would not cover the cost of paving High Street.
Eaton said that she was under the impression that MassHighway did not want to use High Street as a model for its Rural and Scenic Byway program because the street was too controversial. She said that she feared the reliance on MassHighway funding, and the fast approach to the road's repair.
"My proposal is let's pave, and wait until MassHighway wrestles this out," Eaton said, referring to the approach to historic highways that the department is expected to settle on in two years.
She said that until the department develops sound recommendations for its approach to historic streets, she cannot imagine doing anything to High Street.
"If we involve MassHighway now," said Eaton, "there are going to be compromises that people are not going to be happy with."
Eaton said that she doesn't see the city taking the pave-only approach into consideration and that the "mayor knows exactly what she wants, but she is not listening to what the committee is saying."
But Mead said that the city's "goal is to make sure that help is compatible with the desires of the community, otherwise we will find other funding."
Vining, who relays information to the mayor each week, has been working closely with the High Street Committee to survey the street's sidewalks.
This past weekend, High Street Committee member Stephanie Niketic and Vining walked about one-third of the street in order to evaluate the condition of the brick sidewalks. Using standards set by the State Architectural Access Board (AAB), Niketic and Vining evaluated the sidewalks from the Newbury town line to State Street.
Niketic said that she was "pleasantly surprised" to find that the sidewalks met or exceeded AAB clearance requirements. One of the fears expressed by the High Street committee earlier this year was that the sidewalks would need to be widened to allow handicapped access.
Vining said that he will walk the remainder of the street soon, with either Niketic or another member of the committee.
Vining also said that the city is still weighing all of the options in regard to the street's repair, including the pave-only approach.
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