By Carley Dangona
AGAWAM – The Commonwealth denied the request to extend Route 57, thwarting the potential for the expansion of commerce in Southwick.
On Jan. 8, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) declined to purchase a plot of land vital to the extension of Route 57.
In a letter addressed to Barbara Charest, senior analyst of Real Estate for Northeast Utilities System, MassDOT Administrator Frank DePaola wrote, “Upon review by MassDOT and its Highway Division, MassDOT is not interested in purchasing all or portion of the Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO) property in Agawam referenced in Mr. [Salvatore] Giuliano’s letter of Sept. 17, 2013, as we have no plans to advance Phase II of the Route 57 highway project west of its current terminus at South Westfield Street.”
Addressing the response, state Sen. Donald Humason Jr. said, “That caught us all by surprise.”
He explained that on Jan. 7 he, Mayor Richard Cohen, state Rep. Nicholas Boldyga and other officials had a meeting scheduled with Richard Davey, MassDOT Secretary of Transportation and CEO. DePaola attended the meeting on behalf of Davey and when asked about completing Phase II, DePaola stated he was not familiar with the project and would have to get back to them. The next day, he drafted the aforementioned letter.
“I know I’m the new guy on the block, but something doesn’t seem right,” Humason said. “The state should do what it promised.” He added that local and state officials would continue, “fighting the fight” for this project to come to fruition.
Humason commented that the state should purchase the land to “preserve the right for future administrations” to decide if they would like to complete the project.
On Jan. 17, Humason, Cohen, Boldyga, state Rep. Michael Finn, state Sen. James Welch, West Springfield Mayor Edward Sullivan, Selectman Russell Fox of Southwick, Superintendent of the Agawam Department of Public Works Christopher Golba and Director of Planning & Development for Agawam Deborah Dachos penned a letter to Davey.
It stated, “We would like to add our strong support for the taking of this corridor for future completion of Phase II of Route 57 in the 2nd Hampden & Hampshire Senate District. The Commonwealth and the city of Agawam have already spent millions of dollars paving the way for this project.
“The completion of the Route 57 project will also alleviate some of the traffic concerns that presently exist in West Springfield on Route 147 (Memorial Avenue) and Route 20 (Westfield Street). These roads are presently used as alternative routes to reach Southwick and Westfield.
“In addition, with the advent of a casino in Springfield, the arrival of tourists and customers from the west will most certainly create increased traffic on the Route 147 and Route 20 corridors. The completion of Route 57 would certainly be a key ingredient to managing some of this traffic.
“We think it would be beneficial to the Commonwealth and the communities involved to keep the option open for completion of Phase II and not kill the project altogether.”
Fox said the intention not to follow through with Phase II “was disheartening to see after all these years.” Having grown up in Southwick, he remembered when the state first acquired land in preparation for the Route 57 project. Fox personally knew many of the families that were displaced.
He noted that since the first phase was completed, Southwick has grown and is now home to numerous businesses of all sizes that would benefit from the direct road access Route 57 would provide.
Cohen said, “Phase II would alleviate the congestion at the Route 187 intersection and safety concerns at the Clifford M. Granger School that sits adjacent to the route.”
He stated, “MassDOT has already spent millions of dollars to design Route 57. If they don’t finish it, that’s dollars wasted.”