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Bennington

Input sought for downtown renovation

Second phase to cost $596,000; town to pay 20 percent of total cost

BENNINGTON — With funding already set aside, the town is ready to move forward with the second phase of the downtown project. But town officials still need public input about what exactly should be done to improve safety and pedestrian access downtown.

Although the $596,000 project will spruce up the downtown area once it’s completed, the work is much more than a beautification venture, say town officials. According to Bennington Deputy Administrator Kristie LaPlante, the second phase will finish what the first phase couldn’t as far as safety improvements.

“It’s traffic calming and it will increase pedestrian access downtown,” LaPlante said in an interview Wednesday. The proposed project will address upgrading sidewalks, especially on Francestown Road, but the biggest part of this second phase, LaPlante said, was making the intersection of Eaton Ave., Bible Hill Road, Main Street and Antrim Road safer.

“We’re seeking public input on the intersection,” LaPlante said, “Do we want a roundabout? Do we want to make it two lanes? What do people want?”

Residents will have a chance to offer their opinions at a public meeting Nov. 7 at Pierce Elementary School at 7 p.m. where engineers for the project from Fay Spoffard and Thorndike Engineers will be available for questions. “They’re not a bunch of three-piece suits. They’re so approachable and so easy to work with,” LaPlante said.

Construction on the first phase of the project that began in 2009, LaPlante said, focused on better defining the intersection involving School and Main streets. She said engineers narrowed the roadway but also allowed the appropriated width to allow logging trucks and other large vehicles. Although the first phase also allowed the town to improve some sidewalks around this intersection, LaPlante said the town had to scale down the project’s goals when it began in 2009. She said several things contributed to the project being scaled down, requiring a second phase. LaPlante wrote the grant letter in 2004, but by the time the money was granted in 2007, the cost of materials had increased. The town was pushed back time-wise to ensure compliance with the Comprehensive Shoreline Protection Act, which had a major overall in its rules in 2008.

In an interview Wednesday, Town Administrator Dee French said the Select Board and the engineers met Oct. 24 for a kickoff meeting to discuss beginning suggestions of what needs work and conceptual designs to get the project moving forward. Although the public was invited to attend, French said no one from the public turned out. However, the meeting wasn’t promoted as a formal public meeting. It was essentially a Select Board meeting that the public was invited to attend.

French said the Select Board discussed the problematic intersection downtown that, as French said, needs better definition and possibly the construction of a sidewalk across Francestown Road.

The town is paying for this second phase through a capital reserve fund. “It will have no affect on the budget, we already have all the money,” LaPlante said. LaPlante said the town will pay $119,200 out of the total cost of $596,000, for the second phase and the rest will be paid by the state through a federal grant they are calling Transportation Enforcement Phase Two.

The town applied for an 80/20 federal grant, in which the state pays 80 percent of the project’s cost and the town pays the other 20 percent. LaPlante said that if the town doesn’t work quickly to get this project going, there is a chance the town could lose the grant money. “These things have an expiration date and they cannot be renewed,” LaPlante said. The expiration date for the second phase’s grant is June of 2015.

She said the public meeting Nov. 7 will be important to gather public input and begin making designs. Following this meeting, French said the town will hold another public meeting Dec. 5 to continue public commentary and drawing together some beginning designs. LaPlante said the town hopes to begin construction in late summer or early fall of 2014.

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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