LETTER: Still Looking for an End Game on Lathrop Street
Jared Robinson addresses continuing construction issues in his neighborhood.
The following letter to the editor was submitted by Jared Robinson.
From missed deadlines, to destroyed streets to video interviews, to nighttime dumpster thieves, to potential litigation, to creating a Facebook page for people to sound off on their quality of life issues and articles about an end game, I’ve been on the front lines of all this “War on Ward 2."
Lathrop Street was initially used as some sort of forward operating base for Newport’s heavy machinery and large material storage. The damage caused by this equipment has been literally felt in this neighborhood for almost two years. When a car hits the trenches that were dug up and poorly repaired, our houses shake, our walls crack and our property values plummet in an already down market. Enough was enough. I took it upon myself to speak up in defense of our neighborhood. I started small: contacting our ward councilor, the city engineer and carbon-copying the mayor and her aide. Then I started shaking trees on Patch in the comments section. After that, some lovely people from the Patch met with us to get our faces out there and seen. It was at that point I decided it was time for an open forum for people to voice their opinions and complaints with the hope that our representatives would join in to discuss. I created the Salem Ward 2 Community page (originally Salem Ward 2 Residents Association). While we haven’t been lucky enough to get any of our representatives (aside from Ward 5’s Josh Turiel and candidate Darek Barcikowski) to participate, we’ve garnered a reasonable amount of activity from Salem residents. I try my hardest not to make it just about Lathrop Street (and I would love to have more contributors for the site, so feel free to let me know if you’d like to be heard as a neighborhood contributor). I feel that we’ve been hit the hardest.
If you go through some of our photos on the Facebook page and the articles linked above, you’ll see the destruction caused by Newport Construction simply keeping their materials and equipment on our street through all four seasons twice over. A street that rarely flooded now floods with consistency. People’s cars take serious damage on our street from the holes and cracks. My wife’s car picked up some sort of slice of metal in her brand new car and we had to pay to get a new tire. I’ve heard from other residents that their suspension has failed on them due to the construction and the holes on Lathrop St. On top of that, there were the piles of dirt, sand and gravel that would lay dormant for weeks at a time. Even when they finally "removed" it all, there was still thick layers of sand and dirt that the "cleaners" missed as well as plenty of trash like coffee cups and Box O’ Joes that the construction crews left behind inside their concrete tubes as if they were trash receptacles; trash that I eventually went out and picked up by hand. They even left us with a few broken pallets to look at as well.
Then came a ray of light. We heard that the city was working with Newport and the MassDOT to repair Lathrop St. We received a letter from the city engineer stating:
"Dear Residents of Lathrop Street,
This correspondence has been prepared to provide you with an update of the planned paving improvements for your street. As the Bridge Street project continues towards its completion in a few weeks, the City appreciates the patience you have shown, as your street has been significantly impacted by the project. For the past few months, the City has been working with MassDOT and its contractor, Newport Construction, to develop an acceptable pavement improvement plan for your street.
We are pleased to inform you that we have agreed to a scope of work that will repair and re-grade the sections of Lathrop Street that have been impacted by the Bridge Street construction. The scope of work for the improvements, includes, but may not be limited to, the following:
• Removal of all water and gas main-line trench pavement
• Removal of all lateral trenches in roadway and sidewalk pavement
• Replace pavement sub-grade materials to existing material depth on adjacent roadway and sidewalk
• Final grade and machine pave all prepared areas with new pavement
The work above will be done in phases and should start within the next week. On the days when Newport is working, it is important not to have any cars parked in the roadway. No parking signs will be posted in advance of construction and no-parking will remain in effect until construction is complete for that day.
You will always have access to and from your driveway and parking will be allowed on the street after work hours; however, as the project progresses, certain activities may require limited access or parking, on those occasions you will be given advanced notice if you are to be affected.
In closing, we thank you again for your patience as this important project progresses to completion. If you have any questions, or would like additional information, please call the Engineering Department at the number above.
Very truly yours,
David H Knowlton, P.E.
Soon after, the construction crews moved in and started marking up the street and sidewalks with paint. Some of the neighbors were ecstatic to see this. One mentioned that he thinks the only thing that’s going to get fixed is the areas they marked. I had been told prior to the letter above that we would have our street repaved, but looking back it was more of a “We are TRYING to get your street repaved." So when I saw the letter above, I thought it was acknowledgement of that statement. It was then pointed out to me this line “Final grade and machine pave all prepared areas with new pavement." The prepared areas were the lined areas. The only part that was lined and prepared was the central trench, not the sides of the road that were also damaged by Newport. Not only that, but only a few areas of the sidewalk were to be repaved. The next day our concerns were brought to light when Newport started filling in the prepared areas and nothing more. I wrote a hasty email to all the councilors, the engineer, the mayor and her aide stating that this isn’t going to cut it. The gas company had already done this trench pavement two years ago and it failed almost immediately. I asked if I was simply jumping the gun because maybe there was another plan to grind all of the damaged pavement down from and repave the whole street from curb to curb. I thought it odd that they would repave 60 percent of the street and leave the other 30 percent in disrepair. Not to mention all the damaged and missing curbstones that came with all these years of construction. The gas company had dug up a multitude of curbstones to lay their new lines and never returned them. In many areas up and down the street, the sidewalk is giving way into the street with no curb to hold it back.
Today [Tuesday] I received the following email from the city engineer:
"At this time, the improvements for Lathrop Street are limited to what I described in my 6-21-12 notice to abutters (attached for reference). While it is understood that the roadway has seen extensive construction, unfortunately MassDOT and i could not come to an agreement for the preferred solution, a curb to curb overlay. As we've discussed, I've been working with DOT for months on possible scenarios; unfortunately the city has limited funds to contribute to that project and in the end, DOT was willing to repair the trenches, not the parts of the road and sidewalks that were not impacted by the project.
However, when the Bridge Street project is complete, the city will evaluate the condition of the street and sidewalk and possibly incorporate future improvements into its annual city-wide paving program. Please note that the current improvements would be necessary for the curb to curb scenario, so that effort will not be lost."
At this point I wrote back that they still aren’t fixing the damage they caused and submitted many of the photos I’ve taken over the past two years to him.
Councilor Lovely also got involved:
"If Lathrop St is not being paved curb to curb then that is unacceptable especially with what the neighbors have had to put up with the street being used for the reconstruction of Bridge Street."
Now we’re back into a no-end-game situation and again the neighbors have grown restless with the mismanagement of this project and the disrespect it holds on our neighborhood. Again we’re left with half fixes that already sound temporary at best. One local reader said it best: "On the plus side, that makes Lathrop a much less attractive cut through." If only that were true; despite a 4-inch trench dug in the middle of the road, cars still speed up and down it well above the posted limit and with complete disregard for the 'Go Fast Get Fined' signs that I’ve posted at the entry of our street. Even during major construction we had a Volvo take the corner too fast and hit the parked excavator and then speed off.
This letter to the editor is my latest attempt to draw attention to this ailing neighborhood. This needs to get fixed. This is a gash that needs stitches, not a band aid. Band aids fall off. Please stitch our neighborhood back together. I simply can’t stand back and watch our neighborhood treated this way during the construction only to have it neglected at the very end as well.