Grid street engineers hit the road

Taft Corners project inches forward

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

It will be a long road to build the short streets needed to ease traffic congestion around Taft Corners. But Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said the job has to start somewhere.

The town plans to construct a series of grid streets that will link existing roadways around the congested commercial area. A contractor has now been hired to help plan – but not build – the first part of the project.

The engineering work includes a new 1/3-mile-long street that will connect U.S. 2 at Helena Drive to Trader Lane, the access road for the Hannaford supermarket, and a smaller street that links Trader Lane with Harvest Lane. The work will also include drawing up plans for the extension of a smaller existing street off Vermont 2A, Wright Avenue, so it too connects with Trader Lane.

Essex Junction-based Lamoureux & Dickinson Consulting Engineers Inc. will be paid $37,820 for the project, which will include design and survey work as well as identifying rights-of-way, easements and wetlands.

Many hurdles stand in the way of actually constructing the grid streets. The work is expected to cost around $4 million. That doesn't include an estimated $15 million to widen the Interstate 89 underpass, which is considered a key component of the overall plan because it is a traffic choke point.

The town of Williston has just $474,000 set aside from impact fees that developers have paid over the years to help defray the cost of transportation improvements. And state and federal funding for new roads has dried up in recent years.

So the town is banking on new development to pay much of the tab, in particular Finney Crossing, a massive residential and retail project just east of Taft Corners. But with a slumping housing market and a potential recession it is uncertain when – and even if –
that project will be built.

Boyden acknowledged that spending money on engineering work could be considered a gamble because of uncertain funding for grid streets. But he is confident the obstacles can be overcome.

"This is going to be a lengthy process, one that needs to be done sooner rather than later," he said. "The economy is going to turn around."

Besides, Boyden noted, it will take an estimated two to three years to get all the plans and permits in place. He hopes the town can complete construction within the next decade.

Meanwhile, at least the engineering will be done, Boyden said. The contract with Lamoureux & Dickinson calls for completion of the work in March.