Sidewalks ... someday ... for Putney Road

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BRATTLEBORO — It will be at least another six or seven years before sidewalks are installed along Putney Road where a local woman was struck and severely injured on Wednesday morning.

Cynthia McDonough, 57, of Brattleboro, was walking on the east side of Putney Road on Wednesday, when she was struck by a vehicle being operated by James Alan Tierman, 53, of New York, who was heading north in a 2007 Dodge pickup after pulling out of a local business. Tierman was cited with negligent operation. He is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 14. McDonough is being treated for serious injuries at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.

For more than a decade, the Vermont Department of Transportation has been developing a plan to redesign Putney Road between the Veterans Memorial Bridge and the Exit 3 Roundabout. The new design calls for four new roundabouts, as well as sidewalks and a median down the middle of the state road.

"One of the main goals of the redesign is to improve that area for pedestrians including a sidewalk for the entire length of the road up to the circle at Exit 3 with crosswalks at appropriate locations so people can safely get along the road," said Town Manager Peter Elwell.

Elwell told the Reformer the project will significantly improve pedestrian safety on the roadway. The sidewalks will start from the Veterans Memorial Bridge, which crosses the West River where it meets the Connecticut River. They will run on both sides for most of the corridor.

Vermont Agency of Transportation officials presented a refined plan to the Select Board in May.

"At this point, my sense is they're doing this as quickly as there's funding for it," said Erica Roper, transportation planner at Windham Regional Commission. "It's such an auto-centric area that everybody kind of knows it's a problem."

Her group recently supported the town in working with VTrans to conduct a safety study along the road. While the study does not take into account the area near the entrance for Hannaford where the victim was hit Wednesday, the focus was from the bridge to Town Crier Road — another troublesome spot, according to Select Board Chairwoman Kate O'Connor.

Roper received a draft of the safety study in late September. It looks at interim solutions and has not been finalized yet, she said.

"I think it was initiated due to some complaints from parents whose kids were taking the bus to the NECCA facility," she said, referring to the new New England Center for Circus Arts building. "That's part of the reason the study terminates where it does."

O'Connor was not sure whether the redesign project could happen any sooner.

"The last time they were here, it didn't sound like it because they do have to get all the permits," she said. "I don't know where the funding stands. That's another issue. I can't remember how much of that is federal dollars."

O'Connor said she thinks the improvements will help pedestrians.

"Right now, it's just sporadic, which doesn't make any sense," she said of the sidewalks. "I think when the state presented, they were really honest saying that's a really hard stretch of road because there's really not any extra road there. You can't widen it."

Ken Upmal, roadway design project manager at VTrans, said his group is finalizing conceptual plans now.

"We should have those done within the next month or so and then we will go forward with a more detailed design," he said. "Our footprint's been laid down. We're just getting it down on paper."

The idea is to reduce what he calls "the opposing vehicle complex." History on the corridor has shown his group quite a number of incidents where vehicles turning in opposite left-turn lanes hit one another and cars getting rear-ended.

Will the new design prevent unfortunate incidents like the one on Wednesday?

"Yes it will," Upmal said. "The new design will have numerous safety improvements and enhancements to both the traveling public and pedestrian traffic."

He expects engineering on the project to be completed within the next year. Then permits and right-of-way easements will be needed.

"It's a pretty massive project but we got a sound design," said Upmal. "It's going to be a great project when they get this thing built. I think it's going to be a significant safety improvement overall."

Ethan Latour in the Governor's office followed up with us today regarding your inquiry about Putney Road in Brattleboro. Below is a statement to help answer your question - please let me know if you have follow up questions. Thank you!

The governor's office, when asked to comment on moving up the project so it happens sooner, statedn the Agency of Transportation has met and discussed Putney Road with area legislators and at least one constituent as recent as last month.

"We are always willing to consider the possibility of expediting the schedule for the Putney Road project, however, the scope and complexities of the whole project, may constrain our ability to significantly, if at all, change the schedule," noted the governor's office. "The Agency is also looking at the width of many sections of Putney Road to see if there is a way to more safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists as an interim solution to the concerns raised by local constituents. We would be happy to keep you up to date on these evaluations."

The project, when it happens, will be funded about 80 percent by federal dollars and about 20 percent by the state.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.


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