New Bedford’s ‘Big Dig’ Union Street Improvement Project Concludes
NEW BEDFORD – Some locals have dubbed it “New Bedford’s Big Dig”, drawing a comparison to the 15-year mega-project in Boston which diverted the central thoroughfare from I-93.
They talk about the project to improve infrastructure and public services along Union Street that began in 2016 and which has some residents wondering if they could ever move along the busiest street in the city unhindered.
The project is heading towards the light at the end of the tunnel and workers should finally be able to dust off their suits by 2023.
The replacement of the sewer line on Union Street is expected to be completed by the end of April, according to the city’s public infrastructure department.
Once this is done, street resurfacing work will begin in May. The final finish coat is expected to be applied in the spring of 2023.
“Union Street really is the main street downtown,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said in 2020 as phase II of the project was about to begin. “It cuts downtown east to west and roughly bisects it north to south and cuts the State Pier on the waterfront and then merges into the West End.”
You can’t get there from here
As the years of the Union Street project dragged on, walkers and pedestrians in wheelchairs or pushing strollers, huffed and puffed at having to walk down the street yet again because another sidewalk on Union was torn up. Motorists had to circle the block multiple times as construction temporarily removed some parking spots along Union.
Business owners were frustrated when construction went down Union one block at a time and finally got to their doorstep. Stores that held sidewalk sales in the summer had to delay their sales events. Other stores had to lay off workers because customers weren’t visiting their establishments because there was no parking and customers thought the businesses were closed. The city has tried to mitigate this by allowing a limited number of free parking spaces.
Annoyance at the Union Street dig probably came to a head when the ever-popular ’50s Night, hosted every summer by Joe Jesus for many years, was canceled in 2018. The dig at that time was very near the same intersection on Union where over 100 classic cars and hot rods, and street performers would be on display. After careful consideration, Jesus canceled the event because classic car owners were wary of dusty conditions at the construction site ruining their car’s finishes, and visitors would have to walk around the construction.
Jesus died the following year.
It started in 2016 with a grant
In 2016, the city was received $2.5 million from the MassWorks Infrastructure Grant to modernize Union Street with new sidewalks, copper streetlights, crossing benches, rain gardens and colorful pedestrian ramps.
In 2019, the project was got an extra $3 from MassWorks to continue overall improvements to Union Street. It included improvements to water and sewer services and the existing stormwater system to improve water quality in New Bedford Harbour. Americans with Disabilities Act compliant sidewalks, ramps and crosswalks, consistent benches, bike racks and litter bins, plus upgraded traffic lights and lighting to complement existing lighting for increased safety and visibility.
One headache traded for another.
When the final layer is expected to be installed on Union by spring 2023, the planned $10.1 million reconstruction of County Street from Union to Cove Street awaits around the corner. This project, funded by MassDOT, is expected to begin in June 2023.
County Street project looms ::Reconstruction of County Street is set to begin in June 2023
Standard-Times digital producer Linda Roy can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @LindaRoy_TBS. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to the Standard-Times.