By Jonathan Phelps
---- — IPSWICH — As construction crews continued to do roadwork and install new concrete sidewalks near the North Green this week, several residents shared their distaste for the project inside the library.
Both construction workers and librarians said they frequently get an earful of negative comments about the changes.
The streetscape improvement project along North Main Street and surrounding roadways will bring new sidewalks, granite curbing and landscaping. But the construction, which started this summer, will soon shut down for the winter, said Glenn Gibbs, the town’s director of planning and development.
County Road resident Elizabeth Dorman said many residents are concerned about decreased street parking, handicapped access to the library and fire trucks being able to navigate the street.
“You can see the road is narrower and there are less parking spaces,” Dorman said, as she walked out of the library.”I am sure it looked good as a plan, but it doesn’t seem practical.”
A number of other residents have expressed concerns about the project at recent selectmen’s meetings, including issues with parked cars blocking traffic on Sunday during church hours.
“The issues raised are mostly because of the construction,” Gibbs said. “Those concerns will mostly go away when the striping and signage is put in place.”
Before the granite curbs were installed, people would park on the grass. The new design will provide additional parking spaces, he said, so people won’t have to park on the grass.
Gibbs said there are several reasons the improvements were needed, including making the area more pedestrian-friendly and preserving the North Green, which had been eroding as a result of vehicles parking on the grass.
Police Chief Paul Nikas said that because drivers can no longer park on the grass, many people park in places that are now travel lanes.
“Any car that impacts the flow of traffic will be cited,” he warned. “We are hoping when the project is complete, it will be clear where people can and can’t park.”
Topsfield Road resident Dennis Quinn said the common will look beautiful when the work is complete, but he also expressed concerns about the curbing.
“I think it is a mistake to lose parking spaces because of the churches and library,” he said. “Whoever designed this wanted to make it more beautiful, but because the road is narrow I am concerned about safety.”
Gibbs stressed the installation of the sidewalks and crosswalks will improve pedestrian safety.
Planning for the project began in 1997, with the final design being approved by the state transportation department in 2011, Gibbs said. The $1.1 million project overseen by MassDOT is being paid for entirely with federal and state funds, he said.
Gibbs said all the sidewalks should be completed before crews pack up for the winter in the next week or so. About 80 percent or more of the project is complete.
“There is a fair amount of work that still needs to be done in the spring,” Gibbs said,”but it is more of the finishing touches.”
This work includes the final coat of pavement, adding crosswalks, landscaping, and the installation benches and lighting fixtures. A sign outlining the history of the North Green will also be installed, Gibbs said.
Gibbs said another goal of the work is to protect the historical significance of the common. But Pat Tyler, the town’s volunteer historian, said they’ve done the exact opposite.
“I think it is overkill,” Tyler said. “There are a few things they could have done to stop the erosion. They basically destroyed the essence of it.”
Gibbs, however, said the improvements will be a positive thing for the the town.
“You will no longer be looking at a green that is eroding away,” he said. “It will look like a green that is being nicely maintained.”