NEWBURY — For roughly eight years, Larkin Road residents have enjoyed the relative peace and quiet that goes with living on a dead-end street.
But that will soon change as the town announced last week that repairs to a culvert that failed in 2014 and forced the closure of a bridge leading to Georgetown are just about done.
The Larkin Road bridge, which spans Wheeler Brook, was damaged during the Mother’s Day storm in 2006. The culvert failed in September 2014, blocking vehicular access to the bridge.
The culvert repairs, which are being funded by the developer of a 10-unit open space project on the other side of the bridge, are complete.
All that remains to be is running utilities, installing guardrails and repaving the roads, all of which should be done in August, according to Newbury Town Manager Tracey Blais, who added that the project cost between $300,000 and $350,000.
While the condominium project is entirely in Georgetown at 66 Parish Road, the only access to the site from Newbury would be via Larkin Road in Newbury.
Anticipating the reopening, town officials on both sides of the bridge have begun a campaign to alert the public and abutters.
Their arguments for reopening the bridge covers the gamut from public safety to being fair to all taxpayers and not just those living on Larkin Road.
Police chiefs in both communities, Donald Cudmore in Georgetown and John Lucey in Newbury, said the dead-end has in longer response times for emergencies in the area.
“It’s a roadway. It was built and designed to be a roadway,” Cudmore said. “The road is either open or closed, it’s that simple.”
Last year, more than 200 residents signed an online petition asking that the bridge remain closed to traffic. More recently, neighbors sought a compromise in the form of a gate that would restrict access to emergency responders, residents and the Department of Public Works.
In late April, voters at Town Meeting overwhelmingly approved, 118-58, spending $20,000 to purchase the gate.
Larkin Road resident Justin Londergan, who spearheaded efforts to have the issue placed on the Town Meeting warrant, said local leaders need to respect the will of voters and install the gate.
“We are asking the town to support the will of the people, we are simply asking the town to honor that,” Londergan said, adding that the remaining issues were nothing more than “distractions.”
During the Town Meeting in April, however, Town Attorney Lisa Mead said voters in Georgetown and Newbury would need to approve the gate’s installation at a future Town Meeting.
“That process must happen before a gate could be installed,” Mead said.
Moments after Mead finished her comments, Londergan acknowledged Mead’s points and implored Newbury officials and residents to start the process.
The police chiefs, as well as acting Georgetown Fire Chief Charles Savage, said they opposed the gate idea.
In a March 15 letter to Newbury Fire Chief Doug Janvrin, Savage wrote that the gate would “add to the confusion. lost keys, locks changed, delays in opening a gate.”
Savage also wrote that since the road closure, response times and confusion on the part of ambulance drivers has been an issue. Also, there have instances where fire equipment has driven down the wrong road or fire equipment became backed up. It also restricts access to water mains and being unable to attack a fire from multiple directions.
“We look at it as a public safety issue where every minute counts,” Savage wrote.
Bernadette Forti, who has lived on the Georgetown side of the bridge for 20 years but is technically a Newbury resident, said that since the bridge has been closed, she has not felt unsafe being a little farther from Newbury emergency services charged with responding to her home.
She did admit it took longer for her friends to visit her.
“But that’s a small price to pay for pedestrian safety,” Forti said.
Londergan and fellow Larkin Road resident David Maida said the town could install a radio-controlled gate, allow anyone with a clicker to open it at will.
Also, residents there say that conditions have changed since the road was first closed, conditions that have led to more cars and trucks in the area and with that, an increased safety risk to small children and anyone taking a walk.
“The argument is, traffic has changed,” Maida said. “It was bad before. Now, it’s going to be a whole lot worse.”
Maida also said residents did not want to see their road return as a cut-through from Georgetown to nearby Interstate 95.
Central Street resident Angela Genovese, who was walking towards the out-of-commission bridge Monday morning, said she did not see the need to reopen it.
“It doesn’t just affect people who live on this road. It affects the neighborhood,” Genovese said.
The speed limit on Larkin Road is 30 mph and 25 mph on Parish Road in Georgetown. There are roughly 20 to 25 homes directly affected by the bridge closure, according to Newbury officials.
Maida shot down the idea that he and his neighbors are just thinking about themselves and are fighting to preserve a way of life they alone have come to enjoy. He also said the gate would take care of the issue regarding reduced response times.
In a March 21 letter to Newbury Select Board Chair Alicia Greco, Georgetown Town Manager Orlando Pacheco wrote that his town had serious concerns regarding the legal ability to limit access on a public way by erecting a gate there.
“Larkin Road is a public way, and limiting access to pubic safety officials, even by five minutes, could cost lives,” Pacheco wrote. “The towns of Georgetown and Newbury should work cooperatively to find ways to limit unnecessary traffic without having to put in place barriers that would also impact the ability too provide maintenance such as snow/ice removal, and road maintenance beyond just the public safety services. ”
Blais conceded that speed has been an issue on Larkin Road in the past and that the towns would continue to look at traffic-calming measures that improved safety as well as reduced speeds.
One idea that was discussed but never gained steam was the idea of placing speed bumps on Larkin Road. More realistic options include adding more street lighting, Blais said.
Lucey said once the bridge reopens, his department would enforce the speed limit more closely via direct patrols and traffic monitoring.
Pacheco said town leaders have been listening to abutters all along but added that the road is a public way.
“It’s not a matter of we’re not listening, I think we have,” Pacheco said. “What has not been discussed is the interest of everyone else.”
Dave Rogers is a reporter with the Daily News of Newburyport. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.