State grant sought to pay for downtown utility improvements in Amherst

Friday, August 29, 2014
AMHERST — Town officials are seeking $1.5 million in state money to pay for burying the above-ground wires along East Pleasant, Triangle and Pray streets.

Town Manager John Musante said Wednesday that Amherst will request the money from the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, which assists communities with projects that promote economic development and the creation of jobs. The application is due Friday.

“The goal is to seek infrastructure grant money to bury these wires, which we think will help with redevelopment of that corridor of East Pleasant, in particular,” Musante said.

While the five-story mixed-use project Kendrick Place is already under construction, and a proposal for the redevelopment of the Amherst Carriages Shops into a new 1 East Pleasant project comes before the Planning Board Oct. 3, Musante said utility enhancements could lead to more development at the northern end of downtown.

Musante said the idea is to remove all utility poles on East Pleasant Street from the Amherst Carriage Shops to Chestnut Court and on Triangle Street from Pray Street to North Pleasant Street. In addition, utility poles on Pray Street would also be replaced.

This will improve the appearance of the streetscape, better protect the tree canopy and may improve the reliability of the electric grid, Musante said. There is also worry that some future projects may be impeded by overhead wires. Archipelago Investments, which is constructing Kendrick Place, is moving some nearby utility poles at its own expense.

Most utilities in the downtown commercial zone are already below ground.

Amherst has applied for MassWorks grants in the past, but not yet been successful in acquiring money. The town twice sought money from the program for Pine Street reconstruction and installing new water and sewer lines to support development in North Amherst center.

Appealing for money for putting the utilities below ground means the town will not seek state money for turning the East Pleasant and Triangle streets intersection into a roundabout. Musante said staff needs more time to determine if that is the correct approach to improving that intersection.

The Public Works Committee already recommended creating a roundabout, though its members stipulated that this should be paid for by the state. With state money off the table, the committee could revisit its recommendation.

A Gateway Transportation Study commissioned by the University of Massachusetts recommended adding eight seconds to the Triangle Street light to improve traffic flow at the intersection.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.