|By G. Michael Dobbs|
CHICOPEE – The issues ranged from dangerous curves and intersections to poorly engineered streets to a request for police officers directing traffic to wear white gloves at mayor Michael Bissonnette’s first meeting of this year’s “listening tour” on Aug. 12.
Bissonnette has been conducting such meetings throughout the city for the past eight years for citizens to speak about problems and make requests. He is accompanied by most of his department heads in order to answer specific inquires with expertise.
The mayor warned the people who gathered in the community room of the public library on Front Street, “Be mindful sometimes the answer is no.”
He added that during his time in office no teacher, firefighter or police officer has been laid off and said he accomplished that with the help of the members of the City Council, some of who attended the meeting.
Bissonnette spent considerable time answering a question on how the city was preparing for a Western Massachusetts casino. He said the city for the past two years has been on “a dual track,” one of which was trying to attract a developer to Chicopee, while the other was to determine what needs the city has if a casino went elsewhere in the region.
Since Chicopee is out of the running for a casino, Bissonnette said the city is working with the developers to address concerns about traffic and other issues. He noted that if the casino were placed in either Springfield or West Springfield there would impact upon Chicopee. The exchange of the Massachusetts Turnpike at the beginning of Interstate 291 and Burnett Road is a particular problem, he said.
He said the amount of cars coming off of the turnpike and onto Interstate 291 would be like “the Big E every day.”
He is also concerned that area residents seeking to reach either location will cut through Chicopee. “People will look for traffic shortcuts,” he said.
Bissonnette believes a Springfield casino will mean more demand for mutual aid for fire and police services. He said the city needs a new fire station downtown and that would be the unit closest to Springfield.
He said there could be additional problems with crime, availability of housing and incoming students into the school system.
He said he had a counter-proposal for the mitigation plan suggested by Hard Rock International that Chicopee would be part of a group of five adjoining communities that would each received $3 million every five years. He said he would like the city to receive $3 million very year.
He also said he would be “damned” if all of the jobs for the Springfield casino go to Springfield residents.
“The talent pool in Springfield isn’t as great as the talent pool in Chicopee and others places,” he said.
Bissonnette added a casino is a “regional asset.”
The “elephant in the room,” he said was the condition of the Interstate 91 aqueduct in Springfield. The raised portion of the highway needs extensive repairs and Bissonnette is worried how that will affect Chicopee businesses that regularly use the highway.
In other issues, one resident who lives on Theroux Drive, spoke on the dangers presented to motorists on James Street, as it becomes Syrek Street at the Chicopee-South Hadley line. She said the steepness of the hill and the long curves prevent drivers from seeing one another.
“I can’t see them. They can’t see me,” she said. She added that speeding down the hill is also a problem and asked if a traffic light could be installed. She also requested that Theroux Drive be repaved.
Bissonnette said a traffic signal could not be installed, but the Police could address the speeding issues. Police Chief Tomas Charette said he would instruct the traffic Bureau to set up one of the city’s portable speed measuring units and follow that up with radar enforcement. He would also check for the number of accidents on the streets for the past 10 years to identify any specific problem.
As far as the paving of Theroux drive, Bissonnette said he would double-check, but believes that it is not a public way. He said the amount of money the city receives from the state for projects such as repaving depends upon the number of thoroughfares that are public. Bissonnette said there are many private ways in the city and the City Council has been approving measures to re-classify these streets as public.
A complaint about how construction on one street has led to years of issues with water will be addressed for the homeowner by the new superintendent of department of Public Works, Jeffrey Neece.
Another resident expressed concern about trees in the downtown area that have been painted with a red “X” indicating they are to be removed. She was particularly worried about a large red oak near Bob’s Bakery on Exchange St.
Bissonnette said he does not support removing live trees and would look into it. He said part of the problem the city faces is trees whose roots are not popping up the bricks used in downtown sidewalks as that creates problems for pedestrians.
The schedule of the remaining meetings will be Aug. 19, Willimansett Heights Hall, 118 Mt. Vernon Road; Aug. 26, Chicopee Boys & Girls Club, 580 Meadow St.; Sept. 16, Belcher School, 125 Montgomery St.; and Sept. 23, Litwin School, 135 Litwin Lane.
All meetings are from 7 to 8 p.m.
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