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Norwich delays work for Beaver Meadow Road sidewalk

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2021 10:11:00 PM
Modified: 6/9/2021 10:36:13 PM

NORWICH — Plans to build a roughly half-mile sidewalk on Beaver Meadow Road have stalled after town officials last week decided not to seek grant funding for the project, frustrating neighbors who have called for traffic and safety improvements over the past three years.

The Selectboard voted unanimously June 2 against submitting an application to the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program, reversing a February decision to seek state aid.

The VTrans program would have covered about 80% of the engineering and construction costs to build a 5-foot concrete sidewalk and granite curbing along the western side of Beaver Meadow Road. Engineers estimate the effort would cost more than $1.2 million.

However, Selectboard members said they weren’t yet prepared to fully commit to the project. Instead, they had hoped that an initial grant would apply just to engineering and associated planning, with more funds available later if the town decided to proceed with construction.

“In order to proceed with an application, we would have to commit to the construction project,” Town Manager Herb Durfee said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Durfee said he sold the project to board members as three separate phases. A scoping phase to determine the need for a sidewalk, preparation work that could answer final questions and then construction.

But, he said, the town only found out recently that terms of the state grant dictate construction must go forward, leaving little room to back out if problems arise in the engineering phase.

“As soon as I found out the information, I gave the board some heads up and said my recommendation is not to proceed at this time until the town is committed to moving forward with construction,” Durfee said.

Neighbors said they were frustrated by the decision and feel as though the Selectboard isn’t making their concerns a priority.

Residents along Beaver Meadow Road say speeding has become more common and actions are needed to protect bicyclists and pedestrians from traffic entering and leaving the village.

Building the sidewalk also would complete a 2-mile “loop” that connects Main Street with Beaver Meadow Road, Moore Lane and Turnpike Road.

“We’d like to see some action on making Beaver Meadow safer and, at this point, there hasn’t been any,” said Peter Orner, a member of the Beaver Meadow Working Group, made up of community members advocating for a sidewalk.

Orner pointed out that the results of a study performed last year favored a sidewalk for the road, which connects to Route 132 in Sharon, and about 150 people signed a petition supporting the effort.

“We’d like to be heard on this,” he said.

The Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission also submitted a letter in favor of the proposed sidewalk, with Senior Planner Rita Seto calling it an “excellent connection” to existing pathways.

Durfee says there’s reason to be cautious about moving forward, though, and pointed to a 2017 incident that ended up costing the town.

That year, the Selectboard declined to build a sidewalk on Church Street after the town had already accepted a Safe Routes to School grant. Norwich then had to negotiate a payment plan with VTrans to return $66,000 over the next three years, Durfee said.

The town manager said the Selectboard will have several opportunities to discuss the Beaver Meadow project over the next three years.

It will likely come up during a sidewalk inventory, intended to identify gaps in sidewalk coverage, and when the Selectboard plans capital improvements this summer, Durfee said. It also could be revived on the Town Meeting warning.

Durfee said he’s hoping to work collaboratively with neighbors on the next steps, a sentiment that Orner shared.

Orner said he discussed his frustrations with Selectboard Chairman Roger Arnold after the vote and feels “very positive” about moving forward.

“I want this to happen, and so I want to work with them,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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