2017-03-09 / News

Traffic board against East Ferry changes

Three weeks after the town councilors bared their support for a rearranged East Ferry parking lot, the traffic committee recommended keeping the layout status quo.

The council, at its Feb. 6 meeting, unanimously approved preliminary plans to move the triangular park currently bordering Conanicus Avenue, which is best known for housing the Christmas tree, toward the seawall. At their Feb. 26 meeting, however, members of the traffic committee voted 4-1 to support the old layout with Mary Meagher, who also serves on the council, dissenting.

Some downtown business owners, worrying about the flow of traffic in the congested lot, agreed with the traffic board.

“It’s not going to change our primary focus of keeping everything moving in the right direction,” Spinnakers owner Mike Ridge said. “In fact, it might make it worse.”

Town Engineer Mike Gray presented the two options to the board. Although the main focus of both plans is to repair the sidewalks, curbing, asphalt and drainage, Gray said, the alternate layout would make East Ferry more inviting for residents and tourists.

“It’s basically the gateway to the community,” he said. “This is where the town goes to enjoy the waterfront.”

Both plans would retain the 46 parking spaces, but the alternate layout would pave the triangular park into the existing parking lot, which would be moved west toward Conanicus Avenue. The area opened along the bay would be transformed into a grassy area with benches, trash cans, a bike rack and shrubs. Moreover, Gray said, that boardwalk and park would connect to Veterans Memorial Square to the north.

“It would connect these spaces and make it more continuous,” he said. “It would create conformity.”

According to Gray, the primary goal was to maintain the parking spaces, but this new plan also protected the views, provided a continuous street edge and increased usable green space.

Town Administrator Andy Nota called it a compromise.

“It’ll improve the pedestrian flow while maintaining the parking spaces,” he said.

The board, however, had reservations, mainly with the turning radiuses for delivery trucks. Gray, however, said the alternate layout could accommodate trucks, as long as they weren’t 53-footers. Those tractor-trailers are uncommon in that lot, he said.

Committeeman Bill Munger, who owns Conanicut Marine Services at Ferry Wharf, participated in the discussion and vote.

“I’ve spent a lifetime down there,” he said. “I cannot support the second plan.”

Although the traffic board’s approval is not needed to move forward, the administration will continue to vet both plans using the feedback it receives, Gray said. Next up, the administration is expected to present the layouts to the planning commission. Regardless of which layout is chosen, the project is estimated to cost roughly $300,000.

At Monday’s council meeting, Meagher briefed the councilors on the traffic discussion. She said the committee may have “jumped the gun.”

“It should also be noted that there are members on the traffic commission that are also shop owners,” she said.

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