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Sidewalks In Sight In Hartford

White River Junction — After more than a decade of planning, construction on a bicycle lane and sidewalk project connecting Connecticut River Road with the Sykes Mountain Avenue commercial district could begin as early as next summer.

The improvements are designed to ease travel and boost safety for pedestrians and cyclists along about 11/2 miles from south of downtown White River Junction to the Upper Valley Aquatic Center.

“This takes time,” Hartford Community Development Planner Matt Osborn said. “But now we are at the point where it is coming together, and we are not that far off from construction.”

The project would add sidewalks and bike lanes along at least one side and in some sections bike lanes along both sides of the route.

Pedestrians along high-traffic Sykes Mountain Avenue earlier this week said sidewalks and a separate lane for cyclists would make the stretch safer.

“Why shouldn’t there be a sidewalk here?” Philip Charpentier, of Wilder, said. “Anywhere where someone can walk, there should be a sidewalk.”

Charpentier, a former driver for Dartmouth Coach, Advance Transit and area school districts, said sidewalks ensure pedestrians are a safe distance from the roadway. Charpentier also endorsed plans for separate bicycle lanes.

“Bikers shouldn’t be in the same place you are walking,” he said.

George Sunn, who lives on Sykes Mountain Avenue, said he has seen many close calls between pedestrians and vehicles.

“It would really help out safety wise,” he said, noting there are no sidewalks along Sykes Mountain, which was repaved this month. “A lot of people jog and walk through here and I think it would be a really good idea.”

As conceived, the complete route would be built out in five segments, including a small section that was completed during the 1990s, with each funded through separate federal grants that require the town to pay a minimum of 10 percent of the costs, Osborn said.

The proposed route for what remains to be built was drawn from studies completed in 2000 and 2004 that determined there was a need.

The two stretches slated for construction next summer are from Arboretum Lane by the aquatic center to Ballardvale Drive, near the entrance to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Sykes Mountain Avenue beginning at the Postal Service processing center and ending at Bowling Lane.

The town has already received about $575,000 for that work from Vermont Agency of Transportation Enhancement Grants.

Last week, the Selectboard gave Osborn the approval to apply for about $290,000 from the Agency of Transportation’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program for next summer’s work.

If awarded, that money would extend improvements from Bowling Lane to Butternut Road and connect to the improvements that were completed in the 1990s. Those sidewalks take pedestrians along Acorn Street through the Mountain Avenue Heights housing development, before returning to Sykes Mountain Avenue.

Osborn said in the future, he would like to have sidewalks down the entire length of Sykes Mountain Avenue, instead of having the detour through the housing development, but limited resources curbed that plan.

The next phase of the project would continue from Acorn Street down Sykes Mountain Avenue to the intersection with Connecticut River Road, which turns into South Main Street as it enters downtown.

The town received an Agency of Transportation Bicycle and Pedestrian Program grant for $405,000 last year to go toward this section. The deadline ended Friday for contractors to bid to design this stretch, and Osborn said it’s too soon to tell when construction would start on that portion of the project.

The last two phases of the project would address the area around the exits for Interstate 91 and the intersection of Route 5 and Sykes Mountain Avenue.

Osborn said a follow-up study was completed last winter on the interstate exchange portion to evaluate what could be done, noting vehicular speed and traffic volume in that area necessitated a second look.

The state has plans to build two roundabouts in the area, one at the Route 5-Sykes Mountain Avenue intersection and another further east on Sykes Mountain Avenue, near the entrance of the Comfort Inn.

Osborn said he hopes to complete sidewalk and bike lane projects at the same time the roundabouts are constructed, but said “sometimes you just don’t have control.” Grant funding would be sought for construction of the sidewalks and bike lanes.

Osborn said there is not a time line for completing the whole project.

“We knew better,” he said.

Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg said the multi-faceted project would improve quality of life for residents.

“More and more people are looking to commute by bicycle or to walk, and it makes our community more livable and more personable,” Rieseberg said.

“It’s kind of a long and complex process, but I think we are doing pretty well at it, and people over the next three to five years will see much more evidence of it as those pieces come together.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.