The redesign of Route 18 has been studied from the days prior to the completion of the new roadway in the 1970s. In January 2006 Mayor Scott W. Lang formed a project team to kick-start the long-stalled project. This project team is made up of staff from key city departments, Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE), National Park Service (NPS) the New Bedford Economic Development Council and several private and public stakeholders. Mayor Lang gave clear direction to the project team that this project must be designed and constructed at the highest level possible, seeing the project has a critical economic development opportunity for downtown and the waterfront.
The “pedestrian experience” that connects the downtown and the waterfront will be safe and attractive, ensuring that ferry and cruise ship passengers find their way up the hill to the many shops, restaurants and galleries that we have to offer. Enhanced “visitor experience” areas at the Wharfinger building (waterfront visitor center) and at Coast Guard park will also be key elements to the downtown portion of the project.
The construction of the highway during urban renewal provided substantial improvements to automobile and truck connections to regional and interstate roads that became a major asset to the successful development of the seafood industry in New Bedford. However, the current roadway suffers from poor pedestrian connections linking the downtown back to the waterfront, allows automobile use at often unsafe speeds and lacks the physical characteristics that are needed to allow Route 18 to function as a suitable and attractive gateway to the city.
In the mid 90’s Congressman Barney Frank secured $15 million in TEA-21 funding for the project. The three principal objectives of the project are: 1) improving roadway vehicular and pedestrian safety; 2) improving the visual quality of the roadway within the national park; and 3) significantly improving the safety and visual attractiveness of the pedestrian crossing function between downtown and the waterfront.
Mass Highway is currently reviewing the final scope of work for the project and the final design of the highway will be developed over this fall and winter. This will be an exciting time for the project designers as new tree planting, lighting and special paving treatment make the jump from concept to final design and start of reconstruction. Look for regular public updates during this phase to show progress and seek input.