By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — A former city councilor is criticizing his old colleagues for trying to force the state to change its plan for South Central Street in Bradford’s Central Square long after the decision has been made to limit traffic on the roadway to one direction.
David Hall, who was knocked off the council after finishing eleventh in the last election, accused his former mates of “grandstanding” on the issue. He said councilors opposed to the state’s plan to make South Central one way should have spoken out against it a long time ago when it might have done some good.
All nine councilors recently voted to oppose the state’s plan to restrict traffic on a 250-foot stretch of South Central to one direction, leading away from the busy square. The intersection of South Central and South Main Street was recently rebuilt to accommodate the new traffic flow and a traffic light next summer.
Councilors began opposing the plan this past summer after several business owners and people who live in the area told them they want South Central to remain two ways.
”The state told us what they planned to do years ago, and no one on the council opposed it then,” said Hall, a retired city police officer who said he is considering running for council again next year. “Now all of a sudden these people who never opened their mouth when it could have made a difference are trying to stop the state from doing it. Well it’s too late now. All they are doing is grandstanding and it’s not right.”
Hall was especially critical of Councilor William Macek, who has led the fight to keep South Central open in both directions.
Hall claims he and Macek attended a meeting two years ago at which the state explained its plans for the Route 125 improvement project, which includes the work in Central Square and the change to South Central Street. Hall said the state meeting was in a community room at the Presidential Gardens housing development in Bradford.
”The state would have listened to us then, but not now when it’s all been built,” Hall said.
Macek said he remembers the Presidential Gardens meeting, but doesn’t recall hearing or seeing anything about South Central Street.
”The first time I heard about any changes to South Central was a few months ago when the owner of the Capolla bus company (on South Central Street) called to tell me about it,” Macek said. “Hall is just trying to throw me under the bus. But I’m not going to be attacked by him for something that’s not correct.”
Macek said Hall has a vendetta against him because Macek did not support Hall’s efforts to keep another road in Bradford — South Prospect Street — from being changed by the council last year from one way to two ways.
Councilor Colin LePage, who was also at the Presidential Gardens meeting, backed Macek’s version of the meeting. LePage said he doesn’t recall anything about South Central Street being discussed either. LePage said the first time he heard about the state’s plan to make South Central one way was a few months ago.
Nelson Blinn, who owns the Coppolla bus company on South Central Street, has been a leading opponent of the plan to make the road one way. Blinn said he spoke with Hall more than a year ago about the state’s plan for the road when Hall was a councilor. Blinn said Hall told him not to worry about it because it would never happen.
”Apparently Dave Hall is the only one who knew about this in time to stop it, but he did nothing except assure people it wouldn’t happen,” Macek said.
When South Central Street becomes one way, residents and about 30 Coppolla 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. Instead, the buses will have to use narrow side roads lined with homes to reach Route 125.
Macek said he has been advocating to keep South Central Street two ways at the request of merchants worried about losing business and residents worried about increased traffic in the neighborhood behind the square.
Sven Amirian, another former councilor and current president of Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, credited Macek for “stepping up for the residents and businesses in the area.”
”Macek’s the one who’s been listening to the businesses and the residents,” Amirian said. “If anyone dropped the ball it was Dave Hall. As chairman of the Public Safety Committee, (Hall) was the councilor most responsible for letting residents and businesses know about road projects that effect the city.”
Residents who oppose the change 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 recently told the city they are making South Central Street one way early next summer despite the city’s objections.
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.”