Norwich Unlikely to Pave Over Parking Lanes
Residents Voiced Concerns About Safety of Proposal
Traffic passes by the unpaved shoulders of Main Street in Norwich, Vt., north of Beaver Meadow Road, on June 18, 2014. Town Manager Neil Fulton and Public Works officials are in favor of paving over the parking lanes, and the Selectboard held a public forum meeting on Wednesday evening to ask for input. (Valley News - Will Parson)
Norwich — While the Norwich Fencing Club crossed swords on the ground floor of Tracy Hall Wednesday night, concerned residents were in the basement hashing out the Selectboard’s plans to repave Main Street.
Nearly all those in attendance had come to ask officials to reconsider its proposal to pave the gravel parking lanes between Beaver Meadow Road and the north end of Hazen Street, a distance of about two-tenths of a mile, and suggested that paving be limited to the existing travel lanes.
Though no action was taken that night, three of the five members of the Selectboard, which will make the final decision, pledged to vote for the residents’ plan at their next meeting.
Main Street was last repaved in 1998. Tropical Storm 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.
The town had wanted to pave the parking lanes because the gravel was expensive to maintain, Fulton said.
Residents in attendance Wednesday night, however, worried that a wider paved area of 40 feet instead of 24 feet would encourage drivers to speed. “Treacherous,” several called it. “A raceway,” said another.
Stuart Richards, of Elm Street, contended that more paved surface would change the feel of the village.
“One of the reasons I moved here 32 years ago was for the small-town character,” he said.
Both Fulton and Chris Ashley, the chairman of the Selectboard, stressed the importance of beginning work as soon as possible.
“No one that I know wants to pave Main Street once school is in session,” Ashley said.
Jay Vanarman offered a solution.
“Why not pave the two 12-foot travel lanes this summer, and then figure out what to do with the rest of the money?” he said.
The crowd applauded.
Demo Sofronas, who works as a crossing guard by Tracy Hall, agreed and reiterated that the speeds cars travel on Main Street were unsafe for children and disabled people.
“Save your money and get me a new stop sign in September,” he said.
Keeping costs low is a priority for Fulton as well.
The initial proposal put together by Public Works officials had a $120,000 budget, and Fulton said he couldn’t see it surpassing $125,000.
However, at a Selectboard meeting last week, the Public Works plan was “not supported with great acclaim,” he said in a wry tone.
In fact, there had been so many objections that Selectboard member Keith Moran had asked the public to air them out further at Wednesday’s meeting.
A group of residents with experience in transportation public works that calls itself the unofficial “Norwich Transportation Committee” had offered some alternatives, including protected bicycle lanes, separated from the street by a median, and permeable surfaces to replace the gravel parking areas.
Again, Fulton pointed to cost. Protected bike lanes and pervious materials are more expensive to install and maintain, he said.
Transportation Committee member Lucy Gibson also suggested on Wednesday that the town think of more ways to curb speeding, including installing more “bulbs,” or grassy outcroppings that lead drivers to think the road is narrowing.
Fulton agreed. In an earlier interview, he had pointed out that in addition to a bulb at Elm Street, the town already has two speed feedback signs at the north and south entrances to town.
Rob Wolfe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3242.