Easthampton’s Union Street on the verge of complete rebuild

EASTHAMPTON — One of the city’s major thoroughfares is about to get a major overhaul.

From a complete underground replacement of gas, sewer and water utilities to the installation of new handicapped-accessible sidewalks, Union Street will soon undergo an extensive facelift with an estimated price tag of more than $5 million.

Plans to renovate the street have been several years in the making. Visioning work on the project began in 2015, said City Planner Jeff Bagg.

The majority of the infrastructure project is being funded by the state Department of Transportation’s Transportation Improvement Program, which requires a very specific process in order to secure that funding, said Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, who commended Bagg and the city’s Department of Public Works.

“The road is really old, like a lot of others in town. It was made for horse and buggy travel and has clay and wood pipes underground,” said LaChapelle. “We’ve maintained a very broken, old road for decades. Now we’re in the homestretch.”

The project will go out to bid in March with construction starting in late spring or early summer.

One of the last steps in the process before construction begins is taking property through eminent domain.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, councilors approved a motion to take slivers of property from more than 30 owners along Union Street for permanent and temporary easements. Property owners were notified by certified mail on Dec. 9, which included an appraisal, the plans for easement and the fair market value offer.

Councilors also unanimously approved a motion to compensate the landowners a total of $89,500 for the easements. Nine property owners donated both temporary and permanent easements to the project.

Temporary easements will be taken for a five-year period as a safety precaution, Bagg explained. While he doesn’t anticipate the project taking that long, if there is an area that exceeds an anticipated timeline and the temporary easement isn’t in place, the city would have to start the process all over again. Temporary easements include where a sidewalk will be removed and replaced in front of a storefront and where construction workers will be present and walking.

This infrastructure project will be conducted in phases, rather than having everything ripped apart for the duration of the work, Bagg said.

Aside from the underground replacement of utilities and the installation of new sidewalks, the project also includes reconstruction of the road from Big E’s to the intersection at Cottage Street and Williston Avenue; the installation of new ADA-compliant crosswalks, curbs and streetscaping; on-road bike accommodations, including sections of bike lanes and shared lane markings; an upgraded raised crossing for the Manhan Rail Trail, including improved alignment with Union Street; and a new crosswalk from Riverside Industries to the Nashawannuck Pond Promenade.

The permanent easements taken will aid in the widening of the street.

The project also includes permanent utility easements. If a utility pole has to be moved two feet onto private property, for example, it becomes a permanent utility easement.

One such property is owned by building co-owners, David E. Pascoe and James C. Pascoe. Together, the Pascoe brothers own the Union Package Store and Pizza House as well as the building it resides in, located at 66-68 Union St. While they are being compensated for both temporary and a permanent utility easement as a part of the phased construction, the brothers do have some concerns about the elimination of parking on one side of the road for a bicycle trail.

Their business has parking in the back of their building, but after navigating through tougher times with the pandemic, both expressed concerns for their business and others once the parking is removed on one side of the street. The Pascoes also own the building that Studio 72, a hair salon at 72 Union St., occupies. Compensation for the permanent easement taken on that property totals $15,710.

A permanent easement taken from property owner, Stephen C. Robinson, at his 46-54 Union St. building totals $7,320. For 42 years, barbershop Razor’s Edge has resided at 54 Union St., said owner Keith Lenkowski. Though he, too, is fortunate to have parking across the street as well as the back of his building, Lenkowski fears that once roadwork begins, people may not visit some of the neighboring businesses.

“A lot of them are going to struggle and (some) are not gonna make it,” he said in an interview, scanning up and down the street. “In the time that I’ve been here, every storefront on this street has changed except for Big E’s and this barbershop — every one, from light to light.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, while some of his customers stopped coming, he’s gained new ones that patronized other barbershops in the area that have since closed, including Premo’s Cuts in Northampton.

Lenkowski said that in the four decades he’s been working from his Easthampton shop, he estimates that Union Street has been resurfaced maybe twice. Although he’s wary about the impact of the roadwork, he is looking forward to the final product. He’s hopeful that with the consolidation of the elementary schools that one or more of the sites might be utilized for parking.

“In the long run, this will be a positive thing. This road is just awful. It needs to be done. It has to be. It’s progress,” he said. “People will figure out a way to get here. I’ll be fine.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at [email protected]

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