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Improvements to Charles River Path Coming This Summer

The path along the Charles River will be repaired, but first designers must figure out the best signal to install at Irving Street.

An overlook like this one near Pleasant Street will be built east of Watertown Square on the Charles River.
An overlook like this one near Pleasant Street will be built east of Watertown Square on the Charles River.
Waling along the path along the Charles River east of Watertown Square can be treacherous, with sections heaved up by roots and some part missing all together where the bank has eroded.

That will change this summer when a project led by the Department of Conservation and Recreation is complete. Along with the path upgrades, a braille trail will be built for students from nearby Perkins School can enjoy, and a new signaled crossing is installed on Charles River Road at Irving Street. In addition, a river overlook will be constructed off the path similar to ones on the river, west of Watertown Square.

The improved path will not be paved with asphalt, but instead by a mix of gravel and other materials, similar to the section of path on the Charles near the Blue Heron Bridge in Newton.

The signal is the last part of the design that remains a sticking point. Residents living at the intersection where the light will go want the smallest and least intrusive signal. Meanwhile, the DCR is looking for the safest signal, said DCR Director of Recreational Facilities Planning Dan Driscoll at an update on the project at Perkins School on Thursday night.

The current design calls for a signal with a large pole and an arm holding the light over the street, Driscoll said. Neighbors worry this will be an eyesore and may shine into their homes. The want to explore other options, including having lights on poles on the side of the road.

Driscoll said all efforts will be made to prevent light from coming into homes. He added that fewer people run red lights when the signal hangs in the middle of the road.

Another meeting will be set up in the next week or so different options can be explored and an engineer will be in attendance can to answer questions.

There is time pressure on the project, Driscoll said, because much of the money on the project must be spent by June 30 - the end of the fiscal year. The DCR will chip in $500,000 ore more to the $1 million project. A group of public and private groups including the Town of Watertown, Perkins School and local foundations have pledged $225,000. Driscoll said he is hopeful the state may get another large chunk of funding from a federal grant.

The work in 2014 would be the first phase, and will complete a section of path along the river that will link to the sidewalk on Charles River Road. Other sections will be upgraded in a second phase, Driscoll said, which could be done in 2015. Another river overlook and a fishing spot will also be constructed.

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