John Fitch Highway – Climate Resilient Improvements

Remaking John Fitch Highway into a Resilient Urban Corridor

A major commercial area in Fitchburg, John Fitch Highway was first developed in the 1960s with vehicular traffic in mind, resulting in large swaths of impervious roadway/parking surfaces. The road and much of the surrounding commercial development is within the floodplain of Baker Brook, which was completely rerouted during roadway and commercial construction. The roadway and area businesses experience chronic flooding, and increased rainfall due to climate change is expected to exacerbate flood impacts in the area. Several previously conducted studies concur that additional stormwater infiltration, which will need to be done in combination with roadway redesign efforts, could help reduce these flooding issues.

In light of that, and with a vision of developing the area into a resilient commercial corridor, Weston & Sampson worked with the city to help them apply for and receive a Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Action Grant to address the effects of climate change. Existing drainage infrastructure in the area involves aging pipes designed with outdated storm standards, but this project will incorporate green, nature-based stormwater controls. Features such as tree box filters, bioswales, raingardens, bioretention areas, tree box planters, and the greenscaping of commercial parking areas will minimize stormwater runoff, improve groundwater infiltration and recharge, and reduce flooding. Planting new trees and reducing/removing impervious surfaces will reduce the urban heat island effect. We will also update the existing drainage model using future precipitation predictions to assess the Baker Brook drainage area and identify other areas in the watershed where we can minimize flooding impacts. Working with the city’s on-call traffic engineering consultant, we will also coordinate the stormwater updates to the car-dominated roadway to improve walkability and bikeability by adding crosswalks and creating mobility opportunities within this Environmental Justice neighborhood.

Input from residents, businesses, commuters, and other stakeholders was critical to this project. We developed a three-phased engagement approach to determine the vision for the corridor, gather feedback on alternative designs, and review the final preliminary design. During visioning, we engaged artists in an artwork challenge, geospatial comment platform, and virtual meeting. For the alternatives phase, we launched a video and complementary online form to explain the alternatives. The final phase will involve a public meeting for final design review/discussion. We promoted each phase through social media, flyers, and website content; distributed our hardcopy outreach materials in English and Spanish throughout the corridor; and helped design temporary signs that explain the project.

Weston & Sampson is incorporating green infrastructure to reduce climate change-induced flooding impacts, improve the pedestrian experience along the John Fitch Highway, and spur additional public/private investment as well as economic growth in this Gateway City. We hope this project will serve as an example of how effective planning can lead to economic growth, improved mobility, and climate resilience.

project attributes:

  • MVP grant assistance
  • stormwater management
  • stormwater modeling
  • green infrastructure design
  • improved pedestrian access
  • equitable public engagement


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Posted in Green Infrastructure / Low Impact Design, Industry-Municipal, Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness and tagged , , .