Thursday, July 24, 2008

Grants aim for pedestrian friendly Milton

Milton Independent
By NATHAN LAMB Milton Independent Staff Writer

Grant funds will underwrite one mile of new sidewalk alongside Route 7 this summer, and they may also fund street light upgrades for the old town area in the not-so-distant future.

Construction on the new sidewalk began on July 28, and the finished product will run alongside Route 7 from Kinney Drug until just before Nancy Drive, according to town engineer Andrew Legg.

Conversely, the town is just getting started on the lighting grant, which will be open for public comment before the Selectboard at 7 pm on Aug. 4.

While details of that application are still being hashed out, the proposal centers on upgrading and replacing streetlights along Main Street, Cherry Street, and Route 7 between the Arrowhead Dam and Barnum Street, said town planning director Regina Mahoney.

Overall, she termed both projects as the outgrowth of work compiled from the town's access and mobility committee, which recommended back in 2001 that the town put more focus on sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities.

“The town has certainly been moving that goal forward,” she said.

The Selectboard awarded a $314,750 contract for the sidewalk earlier this summer; and that agreement stipulates a completion date of Oct. 15.

Once complete, the sidewalk will be five-foot wide, concrete, and separated from Route 7 by at least five feet of grassy median, said Legg.

The construction zone—known historically and in planning documents as Checkerberry-- is largely sidewalk-free, but has seen accelerated residential and commercial development in recent years, explained Legg. That being so, he said it's important to provide something besides the shoulder of a state highway for pedestrians, children on bikes, and people using wheelchairs.

“The average daily traffic on Route 7 is over 10,000 cars,” he said. “We've all witnessed the volume of traffic on that road, and it's important to separate the pedestrian from vehicle traffic.”

“It's also really important to link the isolated residential developments along that corridor with the commercial, municipal, recreational, and school facilities in the town core,” he added.

Some 90 percent of the project cost will be covered by state and federal highway grants. Local impact fees from new development are covering the remaining 10 percent, said Legg.

“There are no general fund dollars going into this,” said Legg.

The sidewalk was initially envisioned as running north to the junction of Route 7 and West Milton Road, but the close proximity of Route 7 to the Checkerberry Cemetery became a stumbling block with the application and that portion was cut, said Legg.

Once revised, the application was awarded in 2004 and Legg said that initiated the lengthy design and permitting process required for federal dollars.

Having seen that process through, Legg is eager to see shovels in the ground, and is optimistic that Checkerberry residents will feel likewise.

“I'm very excited to see this go to construction,” he said. “I think sidewalk projects are typically very well received by the community because they have obvious benefits.”

The lighting grant is also federal, but administered through Vermont Transportation Enhancement Program, said Mahony.

If secured, the grant would underwrite three phases of lighting upgrades, which would replace existing lights in the old town area with an antique-style lighting and perhaps add some lower fixtures that would specifically light the sidewalks.

The exact details of that are still open to discussion, said Mahony, though she indicated the latter scenario may improve the town's chance of getting the grant: On a previous application (which was rejected) the town was told that simply replacing the existing lights didn't reflect enough of the grant's multimodal focus, since it was considered more of a benefit for cars than pedestrians.

The rationale behind the grant is that better lighting makes for better walking, explained Mahony.

“I think the lights will make you feel a bit more safe as pedestrians and give you a sense of place, that this is somewhere you would want to walk,” she said.

If secured, the lighting upgrades would be in three phases. The first would cover Main Street, while the second would cover River Street from the dam to Cherry Street. The final phase would cover River Street between Cherry and Barnum streets.

Total cost of the project is estimated at $375,000, of which the town would be required to contribute 20 percent, or $75,000.

Submission of the grant application is up to the Selectboard, which previously endorsed the project in a pre-application letter-of-intent. It was also part of the town's capital improvement plan for 2010, said Mahony.

Word on the application should be forthcoming by January of 2009, and the project would likely clear permitting and federal oversight by 2011 or 2012, she added.

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