Board considers cost of second sidewalk plow

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BRATTLEBORO — Street safety is a big concern for many residents in Brattleboro and wintertime can be especially dangerous for both drivers and pedestrians.

Prudence McKinney, director of the Brattleboro office of the Vermont Department of Health, said she was really pleased to hear a positive response toward purchasing a second sidewalk plow at Tuesday's Select Board meeting.

"That's great," she said. "I've been attending [the town's] Traffic Safety [Committee meetings] for four years now and I think the town and the citizens are really working hard to improve safety. We've got a ways to go, but safety for pedestrians as well as bicycles."

McKinney also spoke of how clear sidewalks could allow for more activity and physical exercise among residents.

Talks of adding another sidewalk plow prompted several meeting attendees to step forward and add their support.

"We are aware that the public is very interested in having you consider adding a sidewalk plow to this capital request and staff is all for that if the board is inclined to support this," Town Manager Peter Elwell told the Select Board, which has begun the budgeting process. "We are concerned about the degree to which the mileage of plowed sidewalk has been reduced over years and the degree to which people walk in the community have to walk in the streets when we have snowy winters."

Steve Barrett, director of the Department of Public Works, said the town plows about 14 miles of sidewalks. In years past, before a reduction in staff, the town covered more than 18 miles of sidewalks. Now, the most widely traveled sidewalks are hit first. But with only one sidewalk plow, clearing can be delayed when the machine was undergo maintenance. Elwell said a second plow would allow the town to create a flexible plan, "where we aspire to maintain more miles of sidewalk then we currently do."

A second sidewalk plow is estimated to cost about $139,000 and additional staffing may be needed for running it. Elwell said he can bring back a "very explicit" plan for moving forward.

Board Vice Chairwoman Brandie Starr said she would be nervous about only having two. She reported incidents of helping elderly walkers getting over snow banks. Board member Tim Wessel wanted more information about costs.

"Brattleboro's sidewalks can be extremely hazardous for pedestrians in winter," said Alice Charkes, reading a letter from resident Louise Zach. "The town's only sidewalk plow can require two to three days or even longer to clear these routes after a heavy storm."

Zak wrote that people most affected by sidewalks not being cleared are elderly, handicapped, other vulnerable populations, schoolchildren and train riders.

Charkes told the board more than 20 percent of kids walk to Green Street School, where she works.

"I'd like to lend my support to this proposal also," said Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D Windham 2-2, who has been impressed with sidewalk clearing in Montpelier.

That town, she said, has three sidewalk plows to serve a population of 3,000. Brattleboro has about 12,000 residents.

"I think we're all in agreement that we do need a sidewalk plow, we do need another one and if we can afford to, it would be wonderful," said board member John Allen. "I mean, I think, let's not bite off too much but I'm pretty sure we'll find a way to get this going."

A new ladder truck for the fire department will be discussed at the next meeting.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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