Academy school students and parents cross at the crosswalk on Western Avenue in Brattleboro. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Academy school students and parents cross at the crosswalk on Western Avenue in Brattleboro. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

BRATTLEBORO - The Department of Public Works is moving ahead with its plan to study the traffic patterns along Western Avenue in an effort to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety along the busy state highway.

Brattleboro received a $35,000 grant from the Vermont Agency of Transportation last year to do a scoping study along Western Avenue from Academy School to Greenleaf Street.

Under terms of the grant, federal transportation money will pay for $28,378, with the state covering $3,122 and the town coming up with $3,500.

The town is accepting requests for proposals from engineering firms and the winner of the RFP process will complete a thorough study of the area and give the town a report with a range of options that can be considered to slow down traffic and improve pedestrian and traffic safety.

"The purpose of this grant is to fund a scoping study to have an engineering company come in and give us several options on what we can do here," O'Connell said. "They're not going to come in and say ‘You will do this,' but will rather provide us with three options or more, that we will discuss with the town."

The requests for proposal are due on Oct. 2 and the engineering firm will probably not begin its work until late winter or in the spring.

O'Connell said the work will include public meetings to give citizens a chance to weigh in on the plan.

She said the Public Works Department developed a scoring system to match what the town wants to achieve, and the lowest bid will not necessarily be chosen.

It will probably be two or three years before any work begins along Western Avenue.

In 2011 and 2012 Brattleboro had three traffic fatalities, and a series of crashes that sent people to the hospital.

Since then the Traffic Safety Committee has been working to improve pedestrian safety all over town.

But even before the spate of crashes that Brattleboro had in 2011-12, Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett says Western Avenue has been a focus of improving bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Western Avenue gets more than 60,000 vehicles each week, a recent traffic study found, and Barrett also said the sidewalks switch sides along the route, forcing pedestrians to cross a few times between Creamery Bridge and Academy School.

"The concern is how can people cross Western Avenue safely because of the volume of traffic that goes by here every day. People don't really have a choice. They have to cross," Barrett said. "There's always been a movement between the town and the schools to work together to try to solve or improve these situations for safety."

Barrett said the engineers will take an overall look at the roadway along Western Avenue, talking with property owners along the road, to determine the possibilities of taking on projects that would help the situation.

The town would have to apply for more grant money before it takes on a major project, Barrett said.

"In the scoping study they'll take all this information and say, ‘OK. What is the objective?'" said Barrett. "They'll pull all that together. It's an opportunity to take all this and bring it all together and see if we can come up with a proposed solution."

Earlier this year the town put up temporary bollards to slow down traffic.

The town did a speed study and found that most drivers were traveling at the speed limit of 30 miles per hour.

And since last year's fatalities the town decided to paint the crosswalks twice a year instead of once.

The decision added $6,000 to the line striping budget

Barrett said that even with the changes, and with the plans in place to improve conditions in some of the town's problem areas, the department has to constantly change its focus and decide where to use its limited resources.

Businesses move in and out, schools open and close, or move, requiring new crosswalks, and when the cost of fuel goes up more people walk and ride bicycles.

Barrett said his department has to monitor traffic flow around Brattleboro and change its plan appropriately.

"It's always an ongoing project, and then the dynamics change," Barrett said. "Things change. So there's a lot of factors there.

Barrett and O'Connell said winning the VTrans grant was a big step toward addressing safety issues that have been a concern for a long time in West Brattleboro.

"It's exciting. There's been a lot of discussion by a lot of groups and it's nice to get something moving forward," Barrett said. "I can't wait until we break ground, and physically have something that will make a difference out here."

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