WESTERLY— The Town Council will formally reserve about $97,400 for the design of a sidewalk-replacement project on Church Street in Bradford but will hold off on spending the money to allow time for a full-court press on the town’s state legislative delegation.
Councilor Jean Gagnier asked during the Feb. 26 meeting that the council “table this item until July 1 to allow the council to send a letter urging our state legislative delegation and the governor to replace the sidewalks on Route 216 for the purpose of public safety.”
A portion of Route 216 is called Church Street. The council had been set to approve a resolution authorizing Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy to authorize a contract for $97,474 with BETA Engineering for surveying, subsurface investigation, work on plans and permits, and construction oversight. Sidewalks on Church Street from Bradford School to Quarry Road would be replaced. The council had previously earmarked $450,000 in the 2014 road bond to pay for the complete project, including BETA’s portion.
Ultimately, after a heated discussion that saw Councilor William Aiello, who lives on Church Street, discuss the project for more than 11 minutes straight, the council voted 5-2 to postpone giving the contract to BETA until July 1 to allow for time to contact state legislators, the state Department of Transportation, and Gov. Gina Raimondo. Aiello, who was joined in dissent by Council President Edward Morrone, said the town has tried at various times since 1980 to get the Church Street sidewalks repaired.
Aiello, his voice rising at times, said residents, including his grandson, have fallen on the sidewalks. He said others have put their safety in jeopardy by walking in the road to avoid the uneven surface of the sidewalks.
“Saying that one part of the town is less important than any other is ridiculous,” Aiello said, noting that he has advocated specific road improvement projects in all parts of the town.
Aiello rejected criticism of spending town funds on a state road, saying the town frequently undertakes projects on state roads. He pointed to Main, High and Beach streets as examples. He also accused Gagnier of attempting a “money grab” to divert the funds for other road projects.
Councilor Jack Carson questioned the need to replace sidewalks on the entire stretch. Instead, he said, the project should focus on the area between Red Barn Drive and Weathervane Road, calling the area “deplorable and a legitimate safety hazard.”
Other sections are mostly hindered by mailboxes placed in the sidewalks, and by driveways that do not transition properly to the sidewalk, Carson said.
Councilor Karen Cioffi agreed that the town should put pressure on state officials.
“This is a state road, let’s contact the right people and hold them responsible the way the public holds us responsible for things. Let’s at least go to the right people and say ‘Listen, this is your responsibility,’” Cioffi said.
Councilor Mario Celico spoke in favor of holding off on awarding the contract, saying state officials would see it as a “down payment” on the project and would be hesitant to assign funds to the town.
“I think it’s a little unfortunate that delaying this until July 1 is seen as ignoring Bradford. I don’t think anyone on the council is trying to do that,” Celico said.
Morrone called for fairness and equity in how road projects are approached, saying Bradford projects are no less important than ones in Watch Hill or downtown.
Gagnier asked whether Aiello had sought an opinion from the state Ethics Commission on whether he could participate in the council’s deliberations on the project since he lives on Church Street. Town Attorney Dylan Conley, who had provided a memorandum on the topic to the council before the meeting, said Aiello did not have a conflict because he would not receive a benefit from the project any greater than other residents of the road.
Gagnier questioned Conley’s opinion, saying it did not consider that only a portion of Church Street is proposed to receive new sidewalks.
A state DOT spokesman has said the state only undertakes sidewalk projects when it is performing a complete road reconstruction. The spokesman said the state does not have plans to perform work on Church Street as the road is in good condition.
The council devoted 56 minutes to the topic.