Town asks for pedestrian safety improvements along Putney Road, Route 9

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BRATTLEBORO — In response to the town asking for safety improvements along Putney Road, the state Agency of Transportation is initiating a project that might bring crosswalks to two locations of that thoroughfare.

Jesse Devlin, the highway safety and design program manager for VTrans, told the Reformer the state asked the town's Traffic and Safety Committee to identify traffic improvements that should be considered by the state. The improvements identified include a crosswalk and walk cycle at the Hannaford/Colonial Motel intersection and a crosswalk with flashing lights as close as possible to Town Crier Drive. The Traffic Safety Committee also asked the state to consider adding bike lanes to Putney Road and possibly lowering the speed limit through the corridor.

"We are at the absolute beginning of the project," said Devlin. "We are going to get it programmed and start those conversations to define the scope of the project. From there it will roll out into a design phase prior to construction."

Devlin said because it's not a major infrastructure upgrade, the scoping for pedestrian improvement project might get started in the spring with an actual start date for the work determined during the scoping.

"We won't have a formal schedule for the work until we know what the work is," he said.

Devlin said the state each budget cycle sets aside funding for small projects like this that might come to the attention of VTrans.

"The state is aware of the community's concerns and this is our reaction," said Devlin.

Devlin would not say if the improvements requested by the Traffic Safety Committee would actually be the work performed when the scoping is concluded.

"We're going to be working with the town to figure out what works best within the corridor."

"We don't have a specific time commitment yet, but we're hoping for action this spring on the first two items," wrote Board member Tim Wessell, on his Select Board Facebook page. "This will definitely happen before the big Putney Road Master Plan begins."

The $30 million project to rebuild Putney Road has been in the works since 2007. It includes removing all the traffic lights and installing four single-lane roundabouts. A divided roadway will begin at Noah's Lane, in anticipation of the first roundabout, planned for the intersection of Landmark Hill Drive and Technology Drive. The second roundabout is planned at Chickering Drive with the third at Royal Plaza, the location of the Hannaford Supermarket, and the fourth at Hardwood Lane and Black Mountain Road. The plan also calls for 10-foot, dual-use sidewalks on both sides of the road, a landscaped median, bus pullouts and signaled crosswalk. The state hopes to soon enter into the Act 250 process, which could take another 12 to 18 months, and is currently in right-of-way negotiations with property owners along the road. While there is no certain start date, it could be another 10 years before the project is complete.

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Putney Road is not the only thoroughfare under the state's control that the community is concerned about.

In November, Town Manager Peter Elwell sent a letter to Wayne Symonds, chief engineer and highway division director for VTrans, at the request of the Brattleboro Select Board, the Traffic and Safety Committee and town staff and community members. The letter calls for a reduction of the speed limit to 30 mph along Route 9 between the intersection of Edward Heights and Sunset Lake Road. It also calls for bike lanes on both sides of the road in the same stretch and crosswalks "at appropriate locations."

"This section of Route 9 bisects one of the highest concentrations of low income housing in Vermont," wrote Elwell in the letter dated Nov. 6. "Many of the people living in this area rely on walking, cycling, and public transportation.. Dozens of people daily cross this road without benefit of crosswalks. This section also is heavily used by cyclists for recreation, commuting, and errands, and includes numerous commercial driveway access points."

Elwell noted that the town's 2008 West Brattleboro Master Plan and the 2011 Commercial Districts Study identified this stretch of road as important to the health of the community and recommended it for speed reduction, along with the addition of sidewalks and bike lanes.

"We recognize that the speed limit reduction will be subject to review and action by the State of Vermont's Traffic Committee and we stand ready to provide additional information and assistance to the Traffic Committee and to VTrans staff regarding this matter," wrote Elwell. "We are hopeful that the bike lanes and crosswalks can be incorporated into the final design for the major roadway improvement project VTrans is planning to construct in 2021 on Route 9 between Wilmington and Brattleboro."

Last October, VTrans hosted a public meeting in Marlboro during which it announced a $14 million project to rebuild 12.5 miles of Route 9 between Wilmington and Brattleboro. That project, which is still in the planning stages, might include straightening some portions of the road and adding shoulders where there are none.

On Thursday, Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. at Academy School, the Brattleboro Coalition for Active Transportation and the West Brattleboro Association will host a public meeting and information session to discuss pedestrian and cyclist safety in West Brattleboro.

"Getting around West Brattleboro by foot or bicycle can be a challenge, particularly in the winter," states a press release announcing the meeting. Western Avenue is wide with heavy traffic and the side roads are narrow with few sidewalks, notes the press release. "Snow often forces everyone into the travel lanes. These realities affect us all: kids getting to school, adults headed for shopping or errands, commuters heading to work."

At the meeting, participants will learn about the best practices to keep everyone safe and what the town can do to meet the current needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

Refreshments will be served and safety Lights for pedestrians and cyclists will be available free for those who need them.

For more information about the February meeting, contact Doug Cox at dcoxviolins@gmail.com.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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