By Greg Elias
October 24th, 2013
The Williston Selectboard took the small step of endorsing plans for new sidewalks and a bike path on U.S. Route 2. Now the $2.7 million project must make the giant leap of finding funding.
The board on Monday heard from David Conger from the consulting firm DuBois & King, who outlined recommendations for improving pedestrian and bicycle access from Taft Corners to Williston Village. A study divided the work into three segments and considered placement for the path and sidewalks as well as a new crosswalk and bus stop.
The plan approved by the Selectboard includes a shared sidewalk and bike path running east from Taft Corners, which then transitions to a sidewalk starting at the long hill section of U.S. 2. The final segment involves repairing existing sidewalks in Williston Village.
Discussion of the plan focused on a new crosswalk near the South Ridge subdivision. The crossing is needed to allow bicyclists unwilling or unable to pedal up the hill to access the sidewalk on the north side of U.S. 2. Experienced cyclists could stay on the shoulder, which would be widened under the plan by eliminating the existing truck passing lane, but Conger said less advanced riders would likely prefer to walk or ride on the sidewalk.
Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs asked if the plan’s pedestrian-activated, roadside flashing beacon to warn vehicles was better than the alternative, an overhead traffic signal that halts traffic.
Williston Public Works Director Bruce Hoar said the overhead signal would cost up to ten times more than the beacon, which he said could be installed for less than $10,000.
Jason Van Driesche of Local Motion, a Burlington-based organization that advocates for better pedestrian and bicycle facilities, said his research showed that an overhead signal is safer.
“It gives you a higher rate of driver compliance because it is a red light, not simply an advisory that, by the way, you’re supposed to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk,” he said.
The town has for years debated how to fill the sidewalk-less gap between the village and the commercial district around Taft Corners. Walkers and cyclists complain that they cannot safely navigate U.S. 2 amid speeding vehicles.
The big challenge now will be to fund the project, which is part of larger effort to improve transportation facilities in Chittenden County. The initiative followed Gov. Peter Shumlin’s announcement in 2011 that the state would abandon efforts to build the Circumferential Highway, a 16-mile loop linking Williston to Essex and Colchester aimed at reducing suburban congestion.
Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig said Tuesday that the sidewalk and bike path project would rely largely on federal and state funding.
“I think there’d be minimal town money for this,” he said. “The feds would have the lion’s share of the funding.”
But Macaig, who is also a Vermont House member, acknowledged that financing remains uncertain, with construction not likely to take place anytime soon. “Even if it gets through the committee process and legislative process, I suspect we’re looking at a few years out,” he said.
OTHER TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS
The Selectboard also listened to lengthy presentations on two other transportation projects that fall under the Circ alternatives umbrella. One targets the intersection of Vermont 2A, Industrial Avenue and Mountain View Road and the traffic-choked stretch north of the corner. The other involves reconfiguring the Interstate 89 interchange and building a new road to link existing streets.
Richard Bryant of Stantec Consulting said the 2A options boil down to a pair of either/or propositions. At the Industrial Avenue intersection, the traffic signal could be replaced with a roundabout, or turn lanes could be added. North of nearby River Cove Road, a middle turn lane could be installed to aid traffic flow, or a sidewalk instead could be added on the east side of 2A.
At the Interstate 89 interchange and surrounding area, David Saladino of Research Systems Group said improvements envisioned include a new road that would run parallel to Marshall Avenue, from Harvest Lane to Maple Tree Place. The other major improvement would widen the I-89 underpass, which could allow for additional lanes.
The Selectboard was not asked to choose from among the options for each of those projects. The board will be asked to pick preferred alternatives at an upcoming meeting.