HAVERHILL — Since summer, businesses owners, residents and city councilors have spoken against the state’s plan to convert South Central Street in Bradford’s busy Central Square to a one-way road.
Merchants and property owners said the change would hurt business and lower real estate values. Residents fear it will lead to more traffic on narrow residential roads behind the square because motorists will seek new routes to South Main Street.
There’s also concern about safety impacts to nearby Sacred Hearts School, as drivers are diverted from South Central to South Chestnut Street, which runs past the day care and elementary school.
State Department of Transportation officials responded to the city’s concerns last week. The response: They’re making South Central Street one way anyway.
“The state agrees they never looked at the impacts to businesses and residents or the school, but instead of coming back with those answers, they just said, ‘We’re going to make it one way anyway,’” said Fred Malcolm, owner of an insurance company at 3 S. Central St. “They made a mistake and for reasons I can’t figure out, they’re not willing to fix it.”
Neighbor Anna Frusca said not just businesses are upset about the state’s plans for the street. She said 30 or 40 people who live in the area signed a petition against the plan.
“It’s going to create a lot more traffic on my road, on all the roads behind the square,” Frusca said. “And we’re talking about school buses and big trucks. This doesn’t make sense to anyone. Nobody wants it.”
As part of the state’s massive reconstruction of Route 125, which is also South Main Street, early next summer the state plans to restrict traffic to one direction, leading away from the square, on a 250-foot stretch of South Central Street.
The intersection of South Central and South Main Street was recently rebuilt to accommodate the new traffic flow. Traffic islands were installed and eventually a traffic light will be placed there. The work is part of the Route 125 improvement project and redesign of the square.
State officials have said keeping South Central two ways, once the new traffic light is activated, would cause Route 125 to back up all the way to Salem Street near Bradford Common during peak traffic times in the late afternoon. Without a traffic light, the state said the intersection would rate an “F.”
City Council has voted three times to oppose the change and business owners and people who live near the square have rallied against the plan at several public meetings.
When South Central Street becomes one-way, residents and about 30 Coppola company school buses will be prevented from using the street to directly access Central Square and Route 125, which leads to the northern and southern parts of the city on either side of the Merrimack River. The bus company is on South Central Street.
To reach Route 125 once South Central is made one-way, the Coppola buses will have to go from South Warren Street to South Kimball Street to Ferry Road to Inland Street or South Chestnut Street to Doane Street. People who live in the area will also have to find new ways to Route 125, causing increased traffic on a series of narrow roads lined with homes and Sacred Hearts School.
Last week, city councilors William Macek and Colin LePage attended a meeting with Mayor James Fiorentini and state officials in charge of the project.
“It was very frustrating to see that they are going forward, despite the city’s wishes,” Macek said of the state. “They said we can try to change it back to two ways after the project is finished and the city takes the road back, but that’s a long process. Before they would even consider letting us change it back, they’re going to to want us to monitor the area for a period of time.”
Macek said he briefed the owner of the bus company, Nelson Blinn, and several business and property owners about the state’s decision.
“They can’t believe it,” Macek said of the reaction of those he spoke to. “They are frustrated, just like the council.”
LePage said he is focused on compiling data to try convince the state to change its mind.
“They said they are willing to listen to us,” LePage said. “We need to make a case for how bad this will be for businesses, people who live (behind the square) and that there are safety issues for Sacred Hearts (School).”
Malcolm said he’s also upset that no one from the state or the city contacted people who own property or businesses on South Central Street when the plan to make the make the road one way was conceived several years ago.
“They’re doing something that is going to devalue businesses and properties, so you’d think they’d let people know with enough time to make preparations,” Malcolm said. “But I guess that’s too much to ask.”
Like others, Malcolm is also worried about potential impacts of the change to Sacred Hearts, where his grandson attends school.
“Parents who pick their children up there know there’s going to be more traffic if South Central is made one way,” Malcolm said.