BRATTLEBORO -- The town is going to move ahead with proposed changes to the Western Avenue-Union Hill crossing.
Plans to improve pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular safety at the steep and dangerous four-way intersection have been in the works for more than a decade, and at Tuesday night's Selectboard meeting the board approved the plans and authorized the Department of Public Works to move the project forward.
"This has been discussed at Traffic-Safety as early as 2004," Highway and Utility Superintendent Hannah O'Connell told the board. "This has been going on for a decade so we're really excited to move into construction and see some changes."
DPW is suggesting major changes to the intersection, which has been the scene of countless traffic crashes and one pedestrian death. Eugene Narrett, 64, of Maynard, Mass. was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Dec. 6, 2013, while crossing Union Street and died from his injuries. That incident is still under investigation.
According to the plan that was approved Tuesday DPW wants to extend a bump out curb with a grass center on Western Avenue about 12 feet, which will narrow the road and force traffic to slow down. Sidewalks on either side of Union Hill will also be extended to shorten the crosswalk from about 80 feet, which is very long for a pedestrian crosswalk, to about 43 feet. That change, O'Connell said, will also force traffic turning down Union Hill to slow down.
"This will have a huge impact on vehicles," DPW Director Steve Barrett said.
The crosswalk across Western Avenue will be moved east, towards town and away from the Union Hill intersection. The staging area for cars stopping on Union Hill and turning on to or crossing Western Avenue is going to be moved up a few feet, on to flatter ground, to improve the site lines. This change will also flatten the crosswalk, making it safer for strollers and wheelchairs. The town also wants to put four-foot bike lanes on both sides of Western Avenue.
"This is fantastic," said Selectboard member Donna Macomber. "This is really going to slow things down."
The town received a $70,000 grant for the engineering and construction work, and O'Connell said she expected the grant to cover the whole project. O'Connell said the grant did limit some of the town's original plans, but everything presented at the Selectboard meeting Tuesday should be covered by the federal, state and local money included in the grant.
Western Avenue is a Class 1 highway. The state owns the road and has oversight over work done to it, so VTRans will have to sign off on the proposed plan. The town considered a push button crosswalk light, for instance, but VTrans said the crosswalk does not qualify for the light and would not pay for it.
O'Connell said she expected the grant money to cover the entire project.
With the board approving the project Tuesday, engineers can now complete their plans, which then have to be approved by VTrans. Once VTrans approves the project bids can go out for the work.
O'Connell said if there are no major delays the work could be completed in the fall.
After the town received the grant DPW held a public meeting in April about the proposed plan. She said the meeting was well attended and a number of suggestions were made at that meeting which made their way in to the final design.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.