FALL RIVER – Hang tight, all you drivers heading north on William S. Canning Boulevard en route to SouthCoast Marketplace.
It won’t be long before your final approach to the popular shopping center in the city’s far South End becomes easier and safer.
Preliminary work is now underway to construct a slip ramp, also known in the parlance of road construction as either a slip lane or slip road.
“It will alleviate congestion and improve access to SouthCoast Marketplace,” said Paul Ferland, who oversees Fall River’s sewer and water divisions in his role as the city’s community utilities administrator.
Ferland says the new ramp, or lane, will sit parallel to the shopping center’s main entrance-and-exit road and will run adjacent to the Santander Bank branch.
The new road will be functional before the arrival of Thanksgiving on Nov. 26, he said.
Ferland said northbound and southbound drivers exiting nearby Route 24 will appreciate the road addition, as will people driving in from Tiverton and down the Canning Boulevard/Route 81 hill from the Stafford Road rotary.
The new entrance road will eliminate the need for northbound traffic to swerve into the right-hand lane to enter the shopping center — which in turn should create a more orderly and safer two-lane path for drivers heading past SouthCoast Marketplace.
“I know a lot of people will be happy when this is done,” said John Perry, director of the city’s Department of Community Maintenance.
Ferland said the state’s Department of Transportation has approved plans and designs for two new, large traffic signal lights to be installed at the intersection in front of SouthCoast Marketplace.
He says synchronization of the lights will be fine-tuned to create a more orderly flow of traffic from various turn lanes.
Another road improvement soon to be undertaken will be the extension of the left-turn lane onto Newton Street from northbound vehicles on Canning Boulevard, which Ferland says will be accomplished by utilizing portions of the existing median.
“It will help avoid having traffic backing up into the high speed lane,” Ferland said.
Up until now, he said, it’s been a case of “too much traffic in an under-designed intersection.”
Ferland, 37, said the slip lane is more or less the icing on the cake of a $5 million project on the boulevard that started a year ago.
In addition to roadway repaving it’s also included the replacement of old and antiquated stormwater mains with new pipes.
Those water mains, Ferland said, run south from Tucker Street to Newton Street, the latter of which ends as it intersects Canning Boulevard at the entrance to SouthCoast Marketplace.
New stormwater infiltration devices, or basins, that drain water directly into the ground — to lessen the burden on the city’s sewer and wastewater system — have been installed, as have 500 linear feet of piping running from catch basins to the infiltration area.
The boulevard drainage system, which includes catch basins, manholes and pipes, ties into the sewer main on Tucker Street.
Ferland stresses that the improvements made last winter to the drainage system were an important step in eliminating flooding during and after high-intensity rainstorms.
He said the section of Canning Boulevard that runs in front of CVS on one side and the First Ford auto dealership on the other had for many years been prone to severe flooding, often resulting in a road closure and detours.
The road paving improvement project has also included the installation of new sidewalks and bike lanes, Ferland said.
He said the road and wastewater improvement project was made possible by a $2 million MassWorks state grant awarded to the city three years ago.
Ferland said the grant was awarded based on the development of Southcoast Marketplace and other retail-oriented, economic development improvements — including the opening of a new Ocean State Job Lot store on the opposite side of Canning Boulevard.
“The MassWorks grant was the driver for the project,” he said.
“We,” he said, meaning the city, “piggybacked on their construction project.”
Ferland said the sewer department enterprise fund, which utilizes fees paid by city residents, provided the $2.5 million needed for the drainage improvements.
He says the city eventually received a $400,000 grant as part of the state’s Complete Streets Funding Program, which MassDOT says is intended for “technical assistance and construction.”
Ferland said the nearly $5 million contract was awarded to K.R. Rezendes Inc. of Assonet. He said the local construction company handled the drainage work and hired subcontractors to do the paving.
He also said the property owner of SouthCoast Marketplace is covering some of the cost of the new slip ramp.
Ferland was appointed community utilities administrator a year ago when his predecessor Terrence Sullivan retired.
He says former city engineer Byron Holmes, who retired in 2016, has provided consulting services for the William S. Canning improvement project.
Fall River has lacked a full-time engineer since JR Frey left earlier this year for a similar job in Hingham.
DCM director Perry said it may or may not be obvious to most drivers, but the right-turn entrance off of southbound Canning Boulevard into the Fall River Shopping Center parking lot has been shortened and widened for ease of use and safety.
Perry, 45, has worked for the city for 21 years and headed up DCM during the past four years.
“We’re on the home stretch now, which is great,” he said, referring to the Canning Boulevard improvement project.
“It’s been a collaborative effort,” he added.