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Waltham city councilors worry that Children's Hospital potential expansion would burden traffic

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  November 27, 2012 01:40 PM

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Boston Children's Hospital at Waltham said it wishes to add 110,000 square feet of space to its Hope Avenue facility, but some city councilors worry about the traffic impacts.

As Children’s Hospital of Boston at Waltham representatives told Waltham City Council they hope to add 110,000 new square feet to their existing property along Hope Avenue in the undetermined future, councilors and local residents said they worried about the traffic impacts along Highland Street.

The construction, which would not start until the hospital submits a special permit review plan and receives city approval, would bring the facility to just under 500,000 square feet of operational space in Waltham.

The hospital wishes to demolish some older buildings on the property and build a new three-story clinical space and add a new entrance pavilion and loading zone. It will also nearly double the parking to 1,800 spaces; and replace the current power plant with a more sustainable co-generation plant, representatives said at Monday night's meeting.

“Waltham would benefit because we would take down old, deteriorating buildings and an ancient power plant that is held together with Band-Aids and scotch tape, and replace it with a state-of-the-art sustainable facility,” said Charles Weinstein, the hospital’s vice president of real estate planning and development, at the public hearing.

The presentation also comes after the 2009 City Council asked the hospital to compile a long-term master plan after the organization then requested to make changes to one of its parking lots abutting the Charles River.

“Our primary purpose is to respond to the 2009 City Council asking for any type of plan,” said Robert E. Connors, Jr., a Waltham-based lawyer representing the hospital.

“We’ve had nice growth since 2005,” Weinstein also noted. “We’re looking down the road to a time where the physical facility in place now could no longer handle the capacity.”

Representatives said they had no projected timeline of when they were hoping to start construction, since the time scope also depends on city approval.

“This is not in our capital budget for fiscal year 2014 or 2015, but it needs to be in our long term budget,” Weinstein said. “This is not in our three-year or five-year capital plan, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be beyond that.”

However, Weinstein noted that the hospital hoped to build all the additions in one fell swoop of 12 to 16 months rather than in phases.

Weinstein also said that the organization views the Waltham location “the flagship" of the hospital's satellite locations due to its size, and hoped to collaborate with the council in order to meet the hospital’s expansion goals.

“When we opened in Waltham in 2005, we occupied a small clinic of 25,000 square feet,” he said. “Now, we have 300,000 square feet, and offer the full range of services here that are also offered at our [Boston] Longwood Avenue campus.”

Many councilors commended the hospital for recent sustainability awards it received from the US Environmental Protection Agency and glowing national accreditation reviews. However, many also noted that they worried about how the new entrance and added parking would burden traffic in the area.

One resident who identified herself as a 50-year Highland Avenue resident said although she respected the hospital, she worried about adding traffic congestion to the neighborhood.

“When they built the new school on South Street, that added new traffic, and now there are lots of young families moving onto the street,” she said. “I don’t object, I just hope they do a traffic study and lower the amount of cars going onto Highland Street.”

Hospital representatives said they had compiled a preliminary traffic review, and were prepared to dedicate a portion of their property to widen Highland Street.

“Right now, there’s only one turn, so if a person wants to take a left turn towards Brandeis, they tie up the traffic behind them,” Connors said. “This way, a person behind them can take a right-hand turn, and this would come out of the hospital’s side.”

However, Robert Logan, the Ward Nine councilor, said he was also concerned about the lane traveling the other direction, which would not be widened.

Logan said the study showed that during the peak travel hours of 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., approximately 117 cars would take a left turn into the facility, potentially tying up traffic behind them.

“I can’t picture 117 vehicles in an hour making a left turn into the property and not creating a problem,” Logan said. “You absolutely will have backups there.”

Other councilors offered advice to the organization. George Darcy III, Ward Three councilor, said he also saw the opportunity for the hospital to make sweeping infrastructure improvements by connecting the facility to pedestrian and biking trails, and recommended looking into adding a commuter rail station behind the property.

“I believe this is a unique opportunity not to just focus on vehicular access, but also on trains and building a new train station, one that both your facility could use and the new Watch Factory could take advantage of,” Darcy said. “You would only have to go 25 feet to the rail line. That wouldn’t be that much more of a project in my mind.”

However, councilors said they looked forward to working with the hospital’s wish list of expansion ideas.

“There’s a lot of food for thought tonight,” said state Rep. Thomas Stanley, who also sits on the council. “The City Council really laid the groundwork a few years back enabling something like this to happen in the city of Waltham. We received a lot of criticism 10 years ago, but it’s the collective foresight and hard work and diligence that has allowed Waltham to receive such a world-renowned institution in our community.”

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