Wednesday November 7, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro was a big winner in the latest round of bicycle and pedestrian grants announced by the Vermont Agency of Transportation Tuesday.

The town received two grants to improve safety conditions along Western Avenue, the site of two pedestrian deaths this year. Brattleboro will get $70,000 to shorten the crosswalk at Western Avenue and Union Street. The town was also awarded $35,000 to do a scoping study to improve conditions on Western Avenue from Academy School to Greenleaf Street.

The two grants that went to Brattleboro were from among 14 grants, totaling about $2.2 million, that VTrans announced this week.

Brattleboro Public Works Director Steve Barrett said the Union Street crosswalk project goes back almost eight years.

"It’s great to get the money to be able to move ahead on this," Barrett said Tuesday. "It’s a critical intersection and a lot of kids use it when they walk to school. It’s a pretty dangerous crosswalk."

According to Barrett the money will be used to build out the sidewalks on both sides of the street to make the crossing shorter, and also to give drivers fewer options when traffic is backed up.

Barrett said the work will be done next year in the spring or summer.

Brattleboro has focused on bike and pedestrian safety throughout town after a series of pedestrian deaths and accidents occurred over the past few years.

On Nov. 30, 2011 Susan Press, 68 was struck while crossing Western Avenue. She later died from her injuries.

On Feb. 23 Gary Lumbra, 64, was killed as he was crossing Canal Street after leaving the Agape Church.

Less than a week later, Bernard Crosby, 82, was struck as he was crossing Western Avenue. Crosby also died from the injuries he sustained in the collision.

The town has taken temporary steps to slow down the traffic near Academy School, but this grant money will allow town officials to do a scoping study of the area to come up with more permanent solutions.

"We’ve but the bollards up, and they have helped, but we can’t use them in the winter," said Barratt. "A lot of people walk in that area and we are looking for a more permanent solution."

The study is needed for the town to apply for construction money, and Barrett said when the study is done there will hopefully be a clearer proposal for improving conditions near the school.

"Both of these projects are important and they have a lot of support," said Barrett. "It’s really exciting to get this funding so we can start doing the work. It is everyone’s goal to make if safer."

This is the first year since 2004 that VTrans used this portion of federal transportation money for bicycle and pedestrian projects after the Shumlin Administration said VTrans could take some of the funding from the bridge and highway work that traditionally has accounted for all of the grants.

The Douglas Administration had refused to use this federal transportation funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

VTrans Bicycle and Pedestrian Manager Jon Kaplan said the state received 29 applications, requesting $8.2 million in work before awarding the 14 grants Tuesday.

Rutland City also received two grants and Kaplan said municipalities sometimes get a scoping grant and a construction grant during the same grant period.

He said many of the applications had very strong proposals.

While a few rose to the top, and a few were eliminated because they were not complete, Kaplan said many of the projects were bunched up in the middle and any one of them could have been awarded money.

The grants were considered by a five-member panel.

"It was tough. You could have looked at almost any of these projects and seen the value in what was being proposed," Kaplan said. "It was a very competitive round."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.