Springfield plans for ‘X’ revamp unveiled: Residents concerned about tree removal

By Jeanette DeForge

SPRINGFIELD — Belmont Avenue will no longer flow directly into the Forest Park intersection known as the “X,” several side streets now used as cut-throughs will be changed to one-ways, and there will be fewer traffic signals on the busy and complicated roadway.

Officials unveiled the complete design plans in a neighborhood meeting of about 50 residents yesterday. Many asked questions and few praised the plans, saying they saw flaws with pedestrian crossings and other issues. But, the biggest sticking point was the planned tree removal.

“The general purpose is, number one, to get traffic to flow better,” said Chris Cignoli, the Department of Public Works superintendent, who is working with the design firm of Fuss & O’Neill. “The X doesn’t have a lot of pedestrian access, and this gives a lot of controlled pedestrian access.”

At a cost of about $19 million, the project is designed to reconfigure the most dangerous intersection in the city where three main roads — Sumner and Belmont avenues and Dickinson Street — all cross one another in a complicated pattern and a series of lights.

The redesign is being overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and is being paid for with $16 million in federal money, $2 million in state funds and $1 million in city money, said Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, who attended the meeting.

The project, which started in 2015, is expected to go out to bid in April or May of next year, with construction starting later in 2024. Officials are now working on getting final community comments and will refine the plans this summer based on concerns, said Alexander Maxwell, resilience planner for Fuss & O’Neill.

The plans will reroute Belmont Avenue so it spills into Sumner Avenue, such that only Dickinson Street and Sumner Avenue are part of the X. It also adds a small roundabout on Belmont near its intersection with Commonwealth Avenue and makes part of the street a one-way.

The configuration of the one-way streets of Cliftwood and Lenox streets will also change so they will no longer be cut-throughs, which is how they are used now by people who need to get from Sumner to Dickinson.

There also will be improved pedestrian and bike lanes throughout the area.

However, the biggest complaint from residents was the removal of large trees along the routes, which was such a sticking point three years ago that the City Council voted against the plans.

“A total of 118 trees are proposed to be planted, yielding a net gain of 57 trees,” Maxwell said.

Initially, the plan had proposed taking down more than 100 trees, which has now been reduced to 61, and far more will be replanted, he said.

But residents argued it still will not be a net gain, because they will be small trees replacing stately trees that now line the area, especially the Sumner Avenue corridor.

“That doesn’t feel good,” said Susan Joel, who lives off the corridor. “I understand all the reasons, but I feel like we could do better. … It would be nice if we could figure out a way we would take fewer trees.”

But Maxwell explained the trees had to be removed, because that would be the only way to create a state-required bike and pedestrian lane.

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