By Jason Starr
Sen. Patrick Leahy continues to position the Route 15 corridor at the receiving end of federal appropriations.
He funneled $1.6 million to Essex and Colchester last year to jump-start the proposed connector road from St. Michael's College to Fort Ethan Allen and support streetscape improvements from Susie Wilson Road to Five Corners.
Now he is working to secure an additional $3 million to be split between Essex Junction and the Town of Johnson about 30 miles to the east. His office has alerted the Village to expect one-third of the $3 million in 2009.
Leahy previously granted federal funds for the recently completed paving, lighting and sidewalk project at Five Corners.
"He is focusing on individual projects where the prospects for now are the best," Leahy transportation policy aide Greg Cota said. "Making sure that the corridor is welcoming, safe and attractive is important to Senator Leahy."
Essex Junction hired local contractor Donald Hamlin Engineering to put together a near-term and long-term wish list for Route 15 as it enters the Village from Winooski and Colchester. One of the first priorities will be remaking the entrance to the Champlain Valley Exposition.
Members of the Expo board have agreed to pitch in $80,000 to the Route 15 improvement pot. The Village has also pledged $80,000.
For now, the Village is working with $400,000 in federal money, the remainder of the $1.6 million earmark from 2007. The majority of the earmark – $1.2 million – went to Colchester and St. Michael's for the campus connector. Village and Leahy officials believe the budget will have to be increased to have a meaningful project for Route 15.
Village officials have been meeting nearly every week for about three months with engineer Rick Hamlin, members of the Expo board and Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization officials to discuss Route 15. They presented plans during a Village Board of Trustees meeting last week.
With the amount of money available still up in the air, a phased approach was recommended. The Expo gateway, with plans including a new pedestrian entrance and bus turnaround, improved sidewalks and lighting and new signs, would be in the first phase.
"The CVE's frontage was the original thing that started this," Village Manager David Crawford said.
Other phase one ideas include creating a dedicated five-foot-wide bike lane from Susie Wilson to Five Corners, repaving and restriping lanes and improving the connection with West Street. The Vermont Agency of Transportation has plans to repave from Susie Wilson to the Expo next summer.
The Village also hopes to expand the work recently completed at Five Corners over the rise to Post Office Square.
"The idea is to carry that theme at Five Corners with better lighting and better walkways into the hills section," engineer Rick Hamlin said.
The longer term vision includes roundabouts at West Street and Post Office Square, a pedestrian/recreation path along portions of the railroad that parallels Route 15 and a trolley service running from Five Corners to downtown Burlington. Each phase, of course, would come with new costs requiring new federal funding.
[Note: Bolded sections are Local Motion's emphasis]