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Norwich Seeks Input on Repaving Plan

Norwich — The Selectboard will hold a public forum meeting at 7 p.m. today to ask for input on the upcoming paving project on Main Street, after concerns over the Public Works Department’s initial proposal were raised at last week’s Selectboard meeting.

Main Street was last repaved in 1998. Hurricane Irene disrupted the town’s plans to resurface the road in 2012, and since then, the quality of the thoroughfare has been worsening at an accelerated rate, according to Town Manager Neil Fulton.

“Once it starts deteriorating, the deterioration happens very quickly,” he said.

The area in question spans from Beaver Meadow Road to 386 Main Street, between the north end of Hazen Street and the Norwich Public Library. On either side of the 24-foot-wide paved street are two eight-foot gravel parking lanes, which are expensive for the town to maintain, Fulton said. He and Public Works officials would prefer to pave over the parking lanes and add bicycle lanes to the travel lanes.

In an open letter to Fulton and the Selectboard, a group of residents with experience in transportation public works that calls itself the unofficial “Norwich Transportation Committee” raised concerns that more pavement would encourage motorists to drive faster.

“Because there will not be very many cars parked most of the time, the road will appear very wide to drivers and encourage higher speeds,” the letter said.

The letter also argued that the paved area, which the town’s plan calls for widening to 40 feet from 24 feet, would change the aesthetic character of the village.

The committee’s letter contained two proposals, both of which called for narrower travel lanes of 10 to 11 feet, protected bike paths for children, and permeable surfaces for the parking lanes that would reduce stormwater runoff.

For his part, Fulton was concerned about costs. Permeable surfaces are costly to install and difficult to maintain, he said, and in some cases can be vulnerable to seasonal temperature changes. Protected bike lanes, separated from the street by a median, would cost more. Furthermore, since the committee’s counterproposals placed the paths together on one side of the road, cyclists coming down the other side would have to cross the street to keep going, he said.

And according to Fulton, there are other ways to tell drivers it’s time to slow down. Norwich has radar feedback signs at both ends of Main Street that show motorists their speeds and a grassy outcropping, or “bulb,” that extends into the intersection with Elm Street, giving the impression of a narrowing of the road, he said.

Transportation Committee member Lucy Gibson emphasized that the discussion last Wednesday had been civil and productive, but also that the town’s initial plan had been flawed.

“There was a project proposed that would have widened the road, and now I think that people realize that it’s not viable,” she said. “There hasn’t been enough discussion or information to know what’s the right plan.”

Fulton said he hoped to begin the project on July 1, 2015. The meeting on Wednesday, June 18 will help to inform the Selectboard, which will make the final decision.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.