Dangerous Nonantum road under review


by Nicole Haley, Daily News


When Newton resident Renata von Tscharner rides her bike along the Charles River in the morning, she spends more time watching out for cars speeding by the narrow shoulder of Nonantum Road than she does enjoying the scenery.

“Nonantum Road is a very dangerous road,” says von Tscharner, founder and president of the Charles River Conservancy. “Because the road is so wide, people go very fast. It’s an invitation to speed and there is not enough space for a bicycle path.”

Linking the communities of Watertown, Newton, and Brighton, the four-lane roadway stretches from California Street in Watertown to Soldiers Field Road at Parson Street in Brighton. Nonantum Road has been the site of fatal and serious car accidents in recent years and last week state officials secured $250,000 in the fiscal 2008 budget for road improvements.

State Reps. Peter Koutoujian, D-Waltham, Kay Khan and Ruth Balser, both of Newton, and Rachel Kaprielian, D-Watertown, worked together calling attention to the perils of the roadway, which is in the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“It’s great that money has been put in the budget – $250,000 is not enough but it’s a beginning,” von Tscharner said.

Watertown District B Councilor Jonathan Hecht said the funds for the design phase are certainly a step in the right direction.

“It’s really important from a public safety point of view,” he told the TAB & Press on Tuesday.

The money comes in the wake of a $40,000 the Department of Conservation and Recreation commissioned traffic study of the road completed in June 2006. The study, conducted by engineering firm Fay, Spofford and Thorndike, investigated accidents on the roadway from 2002 to 2004. The firm found some disturbing trends with the greatest number of accidents occurring at the Newton intersection of Charlesbank Road and Nonantum Road, with 46 incidents in three years – averaging 15 accidents a year.

In February 2006 a driver and passenger, both Waltham residents, died in an accident at the intersection of Nonantum Road and Water Street in Watertown. Another Waltham man died in 1999 after crashing into a streetlight at that same intersection.

With a posted speed limit of 40 mph, Nonantum Road is about 40 feet wide, with two 10- foot lanes running in each direction. The department’s study made a variety of recommendations including narrowing the roadway down to one lane in each direction, which could provide room for “improved alignment, turning lanes, and wider sidewalks with grassed separations.”

Cost estimates to implement these improvements ranged from $300,000 to $860,000. Koutoujian said the $250,000 in the fiscal 2008 budget has been designated for design phase.

“Once the design is completed, then we’ll have to go back for a third swing in order to get the monies needed to complete the project,” he said.

Hecht said state officials will have to work with Senator Steven Tolman, and others budget to the project, to make that happen budget-wise.

Richard Belkin, co-president of the Newton Corner Neighborhood Association, said in the future, he wants more pedestrian access to the river.

“I think there should be a pedestrian crossing where Charlesbank Road hits Nonantum Road,” Belkin said.

Koutoujian said the danger of Nonantum Road is a regional issue affecting all surrounding communities. He said a close friend who grew up on the Waltham/Newton line was involved in “a terrible accident” on the road and sustained serious injuries. Neighbors living along Nonantum hear crashes on a regular basis and often have property damage to their own parked cars, he said.

“This is something they have to live with every day,” Koutoujian said.

Newton Alderman Scott Lennon said many neighborhood meetings have been held at Newton City Hall and Watertown Town Hall about the road and he is grateful to the state representatives for pushing the project forward.

“It’s been a long process and we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Lennon said.

Nicole Haley can be reached at nhaley@cnc.com or 781-398-8004. Staff writer Jillian Fennimore contributed to this report.

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