Sidewalk projects step forward

Construction involve two segments

By Greg Elias
Observer staff
August 7, 2008

A long-running effort to build byways for bicyclists and pedestrians will inch along this summer with construction of two new pieces of recreation path.

Work on segments along North Williston Road and U.S. 2 will start in coming weeks, said Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

The North Williston Road project will include a total of 660 feet of path on each end of the stretch running from U.S. 2 to Mountain View Road. Construction could begin as soon as next Thursday.

The U.S. 2 project involves an 800-foot segment running easterly from North Brownell Road. The start date had yet to be determined as of Tuesday afternoon.

The North Williston Road work will complete a nearly mile-long path and will include a bridge crossing Allen Brook. The U.S. 2 project will still leave an 800-foot gap in the stretch from North Brownell Road to Taft Corners.

Voters in 2004 approved a $2.6 million bond to fund construction of the recreation paths, which are surfaced mostly with asphalt instead of concrete and are wider than sidewalks to facilitate sharing by bicyclists, walkers and joggers.

The bond was intended to speed construction of a network of recreation paths. Progress had been delayed as the Selectboard repeatedly cut path funding amid yearly budget pressures.

But now, four years later, much of the work has yet to be completed, largely because of residents' reluctance to grant easements.

One example is the segment along Mountain View Road. The town has for years been trying to get property owners to grant permission to run the sidewalk through their yards and common land. As of last spring, just two of the dozens of necessary easements had been obtained.

A recent push to convince residents that the recreation path would benefit them and everyone else in Williston has yielded results, particularly in the Pleasant Acres subdivision. Of the 37 people in that neighborhood who own property along Mountain View Road, all but three have now granted easements, Boyden said.

Pleasant Acres homeowner Brian Towne is among the recreation path supporters.

“I'm all for it,” said Towne. “If children can get around town without riding in traffic, that's the most important thing.”

But not all of his neighbors feel the same way, Towne said. Some have a “not in my backyard” mentality.

Not including the projects slated to begin in coming weeks, the town has spent $638,183 on recreation path construction, according to Susan Lamb, the town's finance director. That is just over a quarter of the amount voters authorized.

The town received a low bid of $68,915 for the U.S. 2 segment but has yet to determine the total cost of the North Williston Road project.

“At this point I suppose we'll be well under budget,” Boyden said, referring to the overall funding picture for recreation paths. “The only concern I have is that because of the delays” rising construction costs could bust the budget.

Boyden said financing is uncertain for two segments along Vermont 2A, a short stretch between Beaudry Lane and Meadow Run Road and a longer segment from River Cove Road to the bridge over the Winooski River between Williston and Essex Junction.

With state and federal governments facing budget pressures and the economy in a freefall, it is unclear whether funding will be available when needed. The town intends to pay for 80 percent of each project on 2A with state or federal grants.

Another recreation path segment not part of the planned bond expenditures could be on the horizon. Boyden said the town recently received a grant to fund design and permitting for a stretch on Old Stage Road between Wildflower Circle and Mountain View Road.

Boyden pointed to recent progress in gaining easements as a cause for optimism. He thinks all three recreation path segments to be funded entirely with bond money could be completed within the next year.

“You have to go into these things confident,” he said. “Otherwise you'd go crazy.”