Metro, Politics, Newton

Newton to Use Proposed Tax Increase for Sidewalk and Road Improvements, Officials Say

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller detailed how the city would use parts of a proposed $15 million tax increase for street and sidewalk safety improvements at a Zoom round table on Tuesday night.

“I believe so much in Newton, and we rightfully have very high expectations,” she said. “This override proposal is focused on our youngest residents and our oldest residents, and the infrastructure we need to make life work here in the city.” 

The proposed increase would allocate $1.4 million toward funding street and sidewalk paving and improvements. The sidewalk project would be the second largest allotment of the operational budget items, behind funds allocated to Newton Public Schools.

“We are still catching up from decades of underinvestment,” Fuller said. “And the ship that Jim [McGonagle] and Shauna [Sullivan] want to take us on is this shift from reactive maintenance to preventive maintenance, and from reactive improvements on safety to proactive improvements, all with more consistent and reliable funding which is what the $1.4 million would do for us.”

Jim McGonagle, the Department of Public Works commissioner, said that the City of Newton already funds $1.5 million in street and sidewalk maintenance annually. But that amount is not enough anymore, he said. 

One fifth of roads in Newton are in need of replacement, according to McGonagle.

McGonagle’s goal for this project is to create improvements that can be utilized by anyone, regardless of age, ability, income, or preferred mode of transportation, he said.

The plan tackles three main issues: roadway maintenance, traffic calming projects, and pedestrian infrastructure improvements. 

McGonagle outlined a new roadway selection process for determining the roads that require the most attention. The process will address upgrades to sewer, gas, and water systems through cost-benefit analysis.

“We are placing a strategic focus on the sustainability of our actions and techniques,” McGonagle said. “For example, preventative maintenance and routine maintenance is much less destructive.”

Traffic calming projects include addressing complaints of heavy and dangerous traffic levels in busy areas of Newton. McGonagle highlighted some targeted intersections, including Lowell Avenue at Austin Street and Grant Avenue between Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street.

The last component of the plan evaluates sidewalk conditions. The city is implementing a new process for prioritizing sidewalks in need of repair.

“We created an analysis based on deficiencies in the [sidewalk] network, compliance with [the Americans with Disabilities Act] and [the Architectural Access Board], and priority pedestrian routes to schools and business centers,” McGonagle said. “We’ll also utilize crash and accident data to prioritize our projects. This will assist in prioritizing the repairs and provide the most value to the community.”

McGonagle also assured the audience that sidewalk improvements will accompany any major rehabilitation done on a road.

Fuller said the proposed tax increase could create a better Newton through improvements to streets and sidewalks. 

“This proposal would help us to pave more streets and better maintain them for the decades ahead, to fix more sidewalks, while also ‘calming’ traffic and making it safe for us as we travel to school, work, play and our favorite shops and restaurants in Newton,” Fuller said. “Thank you for helping us make our city better.”

November 6, 2022