Sidewalk project put out to bid

North Williston segment planned

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The town plans to start work on a North Williston Road sidewalk this fall even though it has not secured easements from all property owners along the route.

Officials said Monday that the project would be put out to bid this week. Construction of the sidewalk, which will run from U.S. 2 to Mountain View Road, could begin as soon as a bid is selected.

But the sidewalk may not be completed this fall, at least not as planned. Three or four property owners along the route have yet to grant easements, said project manager Ken Stone, who is helping the town acquire those easements. Without permission to use a slice of the homeowners’ properties, the town may have to leave gaps in the sidewalk or design detours.

Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said he’s trying to move the project forward. The North Williston Road stretch is one of several sidewalk projects funded under a $2.6 million bond approved by voters in 2004 but stalled by easement issues.

Boyden said starting construction is not a way to pressure landowners who are holding out on easements. He wants to push forward with the project because further delays may cause cost overruns.

“We’ve got to get it going,” Boyden said. “Every year that goes by, costs continue to escalate. That’s the primary driving force – we’ve got a fixed amount of money.”

He pointed to the public safety buildings project, also funded by a voter-approved bond. The town was forced to ask voters for more money when the project’s original $6.8 million cost ballooned to more than $8 million.

Without the easements, Stone said the town might have to leave gaps in the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians and bike riders out into the road in some places.

“I’m not sure about that,” Boyden said. “We may have to slide it out into the right-of-way.”

The right-of-way Boyden referred to is publicly owned land that extends out from the edge of roads.

Boyden acknowledged that detouring part of the sidewalk into the right-of-way could reduce its appeal, moving walkers and riders closer to passing traffic. The ideal situation, he said, is to obtain all the remaining easements.

The North Williston Road segment is a key link in a series of sidewalks that will eventually allow pedestrians and bicyclists to travel from one end of Williston to the other.

The town previously agreed to narrow the North Williston Road sidewalk to 6 feet to mollify property owners along the route. Some homeowner objected that the originally planned 10-feet-wide recreation path would take up most of their already small front yards.

Williston Recreation Committee member Tim O’Brien said a sidewalk of any size would be better than the current situation, where walkers and riders dodge speeding cars on the narrow, two-lane road. He said sidewalks will connect Williston’s neighborhoods and make it safer to walk and ride around town.

O’Brien won’t let his youngest son ride a bicycle to school along North Williston Road. O’Brien said he instead drives his child to the Brennan Woods subdivision and he rides from there.

In addition to the North Williston Road project, the bond is supposed to pay for sidewalks along U.S. 2, Vermont 2A and Mountain View Road.

To date, only a portion of the U.S. 2 sidewalk has been completed. The rest of the work has been delayed while the town negotiates with property owners.

Those negotiations have moved slowly. On Mountain View Road, for example, only two of the 43 property owners have granted easements. The town wanted to complete the stretch along U.S. 2 this year, but two property owners refuse to grant easements.

When the sidewalk bond was approved, voters were told the funding would allow the town to complete the work in three to five years instead of up to 20 years it would take if the projects were funded piecemeal. Boyden acknowledged that the work has progressed more slowly than expected, but he still hopes that property owners will grant easements so the projects can be completed on time.

“I’m still pretty confident that we can continue to negotiate and get all the easements we need,” Boyden said.