MassDOT welcomes public ideas as project to redesign Worcesters notorious Kelley Square intersection begins

MassDOT welcomes public ideas as project to redesign Worcester\s notorious Kelley Square intersection begins
Massachusetts #1 Crash Location To Get Long-Awaited Overhaul
Bike lanes. Better lighting. Flashing signals for pedestrian walkways. Maybe a roundabout — or two. 

Those were just a few of the ideas from residents and business owners about how to fix Kelley Square, Worcesters notorious intersection that is either loved or hated for its chaos.

More than 100 people showed up to the first of several public comment sessions on Wednesday night. The Department of Transportation and local officials gave a brief presentation, and informed the group they have no set plans yet for the construction. They were there, they say, to hear the communitys ideas. Were not going to solve every problem, said John Bechard from DOT. Not every person is going to walk away 100 percent happy.

Its the top crash location in the state, with about 30,000 cars traveling through its mess of streets each day. And its about to undergo a massive redesign.

Most residents who spoke with WBZ news said they welcome change, mostly because of safety issues. Some people say you drive through Kelley Square with your eyes closed, said 68-year-old resident Lorraine Laurie. She walks through Kelley Square every day and said cars rarely stop to let her cross, even at crosswalks.

As the city of Worcester begins to plan for a $240 million ballpark and development project in the Canal District for the incoming Worcester Red Sox, the states Department of Transportation is trying to figure out just how to improve Kelley Square.

At the first of several planned public meetings, about 100 people filled the Crompton buildings White Room to hear a presentation from MassDOT about existing issues with the intersection.

MassDOT had the attendees break off into small groups to discuss their thoughts on Kelley Square and offer suggestions on possible fixes.

While some people in Worcester say Kelley Square is perfect just the way it is, MassDOT data indicates theres room for improvement. The intersection saw more than 400 collisions from 2013 to 2016, including a fatal pedestrian crash.

The DOT considers the busy intersection – which has no stoplights or walk signals – a safety hazard, and is implementing a plan to improve the congested area on an expedited timeline.

“We dont have solutions just yet,” said John Bechard, the deputy chief engineer of project development at MassDOT. “Were starting to work on concepts.”

Some solutions could include adding traffic signals, or keeping the area without signals and making geometric improvements, explained Don Cooke of VHB, the Kelley Square project director. MassDOT could also consider roundabouts and making some streets one-ways or existing one-ways into two-way streets. 

He grew up in Worcester, and said making longtime residents and business owners happy with the changes will be DOTs biggest challenge.

Cooke explained that the severity of crashes at the intersection is not extreme, as drivers are typically moving through Kelley Square at low speeds.

And its treacherous for pedestrians. The crosswalk near Hotel Vernon saw eight crashes involving pedestrians during the four-year span MassDOT studied.

Pedestrian safety was a popular topic among the breakout groups. One woman who drives through Kelley Square regularly said that near the Interstate 290 on- and off-ramps, pedestrians will sometimes cross the road without checking for cars first.

Both cars and people need more clarity on where to go within the intersection was a thought agreed on by many attendees. 

“I dont think theres one silver bullet out there thats going to solve every single issue with Kelley Square,” Cooke said.

The project will not include any pedestrian or bike bridges or tunnels, Cooke said. It also will not consider any modifications to the Vernon Street bridge.

But the Vernon Street bridge and its connection to the I-290 off-ramps was a major concern for Harry Kokkinis, the president of Table Talk Pies.

Kokkinis said he hopes one focus will be on finding alternative ways for drivers to reach the highway and reduce the number of drivers using the intersection.

“Without dealing with the (Interstate) 290 piece, itll be doomed for failure,” he said of the project.

State Rep. Mary Keefe gave a brief statement during the meeting and said that I-290 really severed Worcester. This project, she said, is a chance to connect the neighborhoods again.

“Id like to see this project not be about destination alone, but about the people that live here, work here, walk here, shop here,” she said. “So, Id like to have that be front and foremost for everyone.” 

“Theres a lot of uncertainty,” he said, describing the intersection. “People dont know, should I go? Should I wait? Do I take a left? Is that pedestrian gonna walk in front of me? So you have to really look in all different directions.”

Bechard said not everyone will be happy with the end result and not every issue will be fixed, but making the intersection safer and more efficient is the priority. 

“I understand that some dont want any changes, but were just trying to make it safer for all users to be able to go through Kelley Square, to get to the businesses, to get from one side of Harding Street to the other, from Millbury Street to Water Street,” he said. “Were going to try and factor all those pieces in.”

MassDOT wants to complete the project in an expedited timeframe. The goal is to have a 25 percent design submittal in January, a design public hearing in February or March, a 100 percent design submittal in May and construction beginning next October.

The project is slated to be complete by February 2021, just before the Worcester Red Sox first Triple-A baseball season in the city. 

While Worcester is borrowing more than $100 million in bonds for the baseball project, MassDOT is in charge of the Kelley Square redesign.

“The baseball team is a factor that were going to be incorporating into our traffic models,” Bechard said. “Were just trying to get things done as quickly and efficiently as we can so were not going to jeopardize that for the city.”

One resident asked the team if traffic concerns relating to the ballpark would be part of the design. The officials said MassDOT will work with the stadium development team.

The next Kelley Square meetings are scheduled for Oct. 24 and Nov. 15. Locations have not yet been announced.

Anyone who has questions or comments about the Kelley Square project can email kelleysqproj.worcester@dot.state.ma.us.


Posted in Worcester