PUTNEY -- The state has started work on a controversial 84-spot park and ride even though the project is still under appeal and is being heard in Vermont's Environmental Court.
Hired contractors for the Agency of Transportation are on site near the Putney Fire Station, along the Putney and Dummerston town line, and work has started on the $800,000 project.
"The state wanted to get moving and get a jump on this construction season," Project Manager Wayne Davis said. "The contractor has his schedule and he is going full speed ahead. Our construction season officially begins on April 15 but he have received approval for the pre-construction."
VTrans wants to build the park and ride on the land it owns near Exit 4 on Interstate 91. The project is proposed to include a paved parking lot for 84 vehicles, six 100-watt LED lights, a bike rack and covered bus shelter
Soon after the Putney Development Review Board approved the plan Putney resident Daniel Hoviss appealed the DRB decision and that case is now before a judge in Vermont's Environmental Court.
Hoviss received a number of letters from the state and he said he was under the assumption that the two sides would soon meet before a mediator.
The state informed Hoviss on Jan. 21 that it would "proceed with construction of the Putney Park and Ride," adding that the announcement did not mean the state would be unwilling to compromise on some of the concerns.
On Jan. 24 Hoviss received a letter from the state recommending that the two sides find a mediator to hear the case.
"We've got 220 people who have signed a petition and who want a smaller project," Hoviss said. "I am quite dismayed that the state agency is not respecting the appeal process."
Even though the project has been on the VTrans books for years, Hoviss claims there was only a single local hearing, and following the hearing there has been no other opportunities to offer suggestions.
"That hearing was the first time many people even heard about this project and even though people don't want a project of this size the state is now moving full speed ahead," Hoviss said. "They are saying the law doesn't matter and they want to gamble. That's fine if you live in Las Vegas but its not fine if you live in small town."
Hoviss said he wants a smaller park and ride, with about 36 spots.
He is suggesting the state install two smart LED lights, which are tied to a motion sensor so the lights are not on all night, and he wants a greater emphasis on bike and bus travel.
Davis said he could not comment on the pending appeal, but he did verify that the people on the site are contractors working for the state.
"We are not in the driver's seat at this moment," he said. "This case is under appeal and the state's attorney is handling it. Nothing has changed about this project at this point in time."
Assistant Attorney General Bill Rice said there is no stay on the project while the Environmental Court considers the Hoviss appeal.
"The judge has indicated that he will rule on this soon," Rice said. "This is a much needed project."
The Exit 4 park and ride has been on the books for more than 10 years, Windham Regional Commission Senior Planner Matt Mann said.
The project was delayed due to a long permitting process, as well as because of funding.
When gas prices spiked in 2008 the state saw a sharp rise in park and ride use around the state and the state's limited funding went into expanding the overflowing park and rides along interstates 91 and 89.
Mann said the proposed park and ride in Putney might seem large to people who live there, but he said it will be used by commuters in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
"This will be the first and only park and ride in the region and there is a lot of demand," Mann said. "The Interstate 91 corridor has seen an increase in the past ten years and this is being built to meet the existing demand as well as with a look to the future."
Mann said he attended a preconstruction meeting on the park and ride recently.
He said the pending legal case was never mentioned at that meeting.
"Every large project gets a preconstruction meeting just so that once construction starts everything happen more smoothly," Mann said. "This has been on the books for long time and they don't want to hold the money one more year and miss one more construction season."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.