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Preparing the ground for Putney Road

State holds public hearing on construction plan, set for 2020

BRATTLEBORO—The Vermont Agency of Transportation has big plans for the section of Putney Road between the West River bridge and the Exit 3 roundabout.

A major reconstruction involving sidewalks, a bike lane, landscaping, and four new roundabouts is planned.

The project, conservatively estimated at $15 million, will reconstruct about one and a quarter miles of roadway, and cover more than 10 acres. According to state officials, construction is slated for summer 2020.

“It’s all about safety and mobility,” said Ken Upmal, a project manager with AOT’s highway and safety division. “We do things for safety.”

According to Upmal, pedestrians and drivers will benefit from the Putney Road project.

AOT representatives discussed the plan with a capacity crowd of people who have property in the area, and others, at a public hearing March 7 at the Selectboard meeting room in the Municipal Center.

State statute requires what are known as 502 hearings for proposed highway and bridge projects when the state may potentially acquire property from individual owners. The purpose of the hearing was for AOT to solicit feedback from the public about the project prior to acquiring property.

Upmal, and AOT civil engineers Brandon McAdams and Amos Kempton, took comment from the audience. They also provided handouts on the project and Vermont’s right-of-way and acquisition process. The state notified abutters via certified mail of the possibility of acquiring land, said McAdams. AOT staff will also meet with abutters personally.

Upmal told the audience they had until March 17 to send comment to the state. AOT will then report back to the Selectboard within 30 days.

The project will also go through the state’s Act 250 environmental permitting process, he added.

The AOT representatives presented the project’s concept plans that have hung on the wall outside the town planning department.

According to Public Works Director Steve Barrett, the project grew out of the town’s and Windham Regional Commission’s efforts to improve Putney Road and address safety concerns for cars, bikes, and pedestrians.

The town assigned a committee to work on the issue several years ago. This committee work led to a public hearing and later to a presentation to the Selectboard. The board voted to accept a project concept. The town sent the concept to the state.

The state and town have collaborated on the Putney Road reconstruction project, Barrett said.

“It’s a really big nut, but that’s why we’re [all] here,” Barrett said.

According to McAdams, Putney Road is an “extremely high” crash corridor.

Upmal added that, over the past five years, 182 accidents had occurred on Putney Road, resulting in 40 injuries.

The new project design is intended to reduce collisions and improve mobility for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.

The roundabouts would help slow traffic, McAdams said.

Upmal added that the Exit 3 roundabout has seen some accidents, though none resulted in injuries as drivers there operate at slower speeds.

The current Putney Road has unacceptable E and F grades. The new design would raise the grade to an A.

Upmal said that the state also conducted a two-year scoping phase between 2005 and 2008. The project design also syncs with the Putney Road 50-year master plan.

The new roadway will have two 12-foot lanes, two five-foot bike lanes, and a six-foot wide sidewalk at the southern end closest to the West River bridge. Starting by the Peoples Bank property, the road will divide into four lanes with a grassy median.

Along with the car and bike lanes, the state also will construct sidewalks on each side of the road, which most of Putney Road lacks now, and four roundabouts.

McAdams said that the existing Putney Road covers a lot of ground. He anticipated that much of the new design would fit within the same footprint.

The new design would also eliminate left-hand turns from the side roads and some of the businesses along Putney Road. McAdams said that many of the collisions on Putney Road were “sideswipes” occurring when drivers attempted to turn left.

The bike lane is considered shared-use as cars will have access to it in case of emergency, such as a breakdown.

According to the AOT, the state and federal government will pick up the project’s tab with the federal government covering 81 percent of the cost and the state picking up 19 percent.

“We’re at the beginning of the project,” said Upmal, assuring audience members that the residents would have additional opportunities to comment on the project.

Audience members’ reaction to the project spanned the spectrum from very positive to feeling the project was unnecessary.

Adam Hubbard called the design “forward thinking,” and believes it would improve traffic flow and property values along Putney Road.

Paul Cameron, executive director of Brattleboro Climate Protection, also praised the project design. He said it would help reduce pollution as the roundabouts would reduce idling and effectively eliminate the consumption of more than 500,000 gallons of gas per year.

Overall, he said the project would help the town reach its goal of a 30 percent reduction from 2010 levels of emissions, energy consumption, and pollution by the year 2030 as stated in the town plan.

Scott Borofsky strongly opposed the project. He said he could not understand why AOT should take on the project at all.

“Why?” he asked repeatedly.

The expensive project, Borofsky said, would hinder travel and frustrate drivers. He said he did not like the addition of roundabouts, but did praise the sidewalks.

“It’s not the city here, and these roundabouts seem to imply it’s going to be,” Borofsky said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it."

Borofsky also asked who would provide an extra fire truck or police officers to handle any increased development on the new Putney Road. He also challenged the AOT representatives’ data on accidents in the Exit 3 roundabout.

David Gartenstein, a Selectboard member who stressed he was speaking only for himself at the meeting, echoed Borofsky.

“I personally, looking at this, I don’t understand this at all,” he said.

The next phase of the project will entail developing preliminary plans, said Upmal.

These designs will include more detailed design elements such as storm water runoff systems.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #194 (Wednesday, March 13, 2013).

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