“We have two seasons: winter and construction.” The saying is not unique to Needham, but it certainly applies here.

This year’s town construction season started earlier than usual, the byproduct of a winter effectively without snow — or what Department of Public Works Director Carys Lustig called a lack of “plowable events.”

With the ground clear and few potholes to be filled, the DPW was able to begin work earlier than anticipated on a number of projects that have since been completed or are nearing completion. It is also extending the window for other DPW projects that will be ongoing into the fall.

Lustig said the longer season may help Needham play catch-up on a backlog of repairs created by a period in town when roads and sidewalks did not receive sufficient maintenance.

“The town of Needham, 20 years ago, really had not had a lot of road work done,” Lustig explained during a presentation to the Select Board at its June 27 meeting.  

The DPW gives higher priority to long neglected streets and uses other factors in establishing its project list. It looks at the underlying condition of a road to determine the most appropriate paving method. Some roads require re-paving, while others are better served by “double rubber chip” sealing treatments, and others by micro-surfacing.

“We get comments a lot — ‘Why is this road getting pavement and this road getting chip?’ Some people think it’s because somebody knows somebody or there’s a certain influence. That’s not the case,” Lustig told the Select Board.

“There’s no special treatment given to any special road. We are putting down the correct treatment in the correct place.”

Safety is also a consideration in choosing projects, as was the case with the soon-to-be-completed work at the intersection of Webster and South streets. Lustig said the excessive width of the intersection, some 35 feet, promotes unsafe driving habits that will be mitigated by a strategy described in the most un-Massachusetts of terms – traffic calming.

The project will largely be completed by the end of this week and includes the installation of granite curbing on both sides of Webster Street from Fox Hill Road to 200 feet north of South Street.  The construction will help reduce vehicle speeds, shorten the pedestrian crossing at South Street, improve sight lines for all users and provide wheelchair access ramps. A Rapid Flash Beacon (RFB) will eventually be added to assist pedestrians.

Sidewalks also will be receiving attention. The DPW has often noted that the backlog on maintenance on the town’s 160 miles of sidewalk is even more dramatic than the backlog on Needham’s 260 “lane miles” of road.

Work was expected to begin this week to reconstruct the sidewalk on Central Avenue from Charles River Street to 100 feet beyond Carleton Drive. This project will include the installation of access ramps, drain improvements, and asphalt sidewalk and grass berm reconstruction on the east side of Central Avenue.

Lustig noted that this will be especially helpful for members of Temple Aliyah at 1664 Central Ave. who walk to services. “We’re looking to make a connection eventually all the way down to Claxton (Field),” she said.

“We’ve been focusing on areas where we have affordable housing so they have appropriate networks of sidewalks to get to public transit or downtown,” Lustig said.

It is the DPW’s goal to complete about 17 miles of street work and 1-2 miles of sidewalk repairs annually.

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