Up to voters to make roads safer

Sunderland Safe Road Committee urges community to support minor improvements

Posted
SUNDERLAND — Aside from U.S. Route 7 and Vermont Route 7A, the only road to cross — on foot or bicycle — through the north and south shires is Sunderland Hill Road.

That's why the Sunderland Safe Roads Committee volunteers are continuing to work toward their mission.

On Town Meeting day, residents will vote on the construction of a four foot wide paved shoulder on an uphill section (half mile length) on Sunderland Hill Road — specifically between the town garage and property No. 2539, just past the town offices.

Wednesday night's presentation was the last of three before Town Meeting, where seven residents came prepared with questions.

The article would be supported by a 2017 grant proposal. Residents would pay $30,000 for the improvements for a project total of $151,000.

During the bidding process, if it's more than the total cost, the committee won't proceed.

Before the committee submits a grant, voters must agree to pay 30 percent of the project cost. If supported, the committee can apply in April and would hear back from VTrans by the fall.

"We don't know what the grant is going to look like," safe road committee chairperson Marie Litowinsky said.

The committee said they don't know if there will be grants available and if there are, it's unsure they'll be awarded.

"We were pretty fortunate to get the scoping [study funds]," committee member Colleen York said. "We were actually surprised we got that. They were pretty optimistic that we would stand a chance if we get the residents to side."

The idea is a result of Act 158 that passed last July that says motorists must give the vulnerable user — bicyclist or walker — four feet of clearance.

Additionally, bicyclists should exercise due care when passing a standing vehicle, should ride as near to the right side of the roadway, and shouldn't ride more than two abreast — or face a fine up to $100.

Incremental changes made in that area include road signage to increase "sharing the road" awareness, discussion of a crosswalk at the school, fog lines to reduce speed and a gravel shoulder to allow people to safely walk.

It's also apparent that bikers use Sunderland Hill Road because Route 7A is too unsafe, and they're prohibited on Route 7.

The amount of 'S' turns make it difficult for cars to pass bikers and walkers without avoiding oncoming traffic.

In 2015 there were four bicycling accidents in Vermont, some fatal, Litowinsky said.. York added that nothing has occurred on Sunderland Hill Road, but incidents are reportedly increasing statewide.

"One of the real challenges we have in our transportation planning work is that people say 'Well there isn't a problem, no one has been injured or killed there,'" said Jim Sullivan from the Bennington County Regional Commission. "The other side of that perspective is maybe the road appears so unsafe and unattractive that people don't go there to start with. So it'll be a little bit hard to evaluate the need.

We're dealing with existing safety problems and trying to improve access."

York said no presentations can be made during Town Meeting, but during the discussion period, but questions about the project can be explained.

The price of the improvement is based off of how much the previous scoping study cost.

That study looked at the distance between the Chiselville bridge to Hill Farm Road to Route 7A. It was encouraged by Vermont's "Walkability Campaign." The state and town divided the cost. It was funded under the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program through VTrans.

Local funding comes from tax revenue directly or through a loan to be paid by tax revenue. The requested amount from the town is not associated with the select board budget or highway fund.

Sullivan said if all goes as planned, approval for the grant would ideally happen in fall 2017, then construction starts in spring, after an engineer fine tunes the design. Due to the small scale project, it would last about a month.

The cost might fluctuate after an engineer evaluates the area, Sullivan added.

"It might be less than [$151,000], it might be more than that. Hopefully it's very close to that," he said. "At that point is when the town really has to make a decision to commit to moving forward."

Town Meeting is on March 6. Voters cast ballots the next day. For more information, visit sunderlandvt.org/town-government/safe-roads.

Reach staff writer By Makayla McGeeney

mmcgeeney

@benningtonbanner.com

SUNDERLAND — Aside from U.S. Route 7 and Vermont Route 7A, the only road to cross — on foot or bicycle — through the north and south shires is Sunderland Hill Road.

That's why the Sunderland Safe Roads Committee volunteers are continuing to work toward their mission.

On Town Meeting day, residents will vote on the construction of a four-foot-wide paved shoulder on an uphill section (half mile length) on Sunderland Hill Road — specifically between the town garage and property No. 2539, just past the town offices.

Wednesday night's presentation was the last of three before Town Meeting, where seven residents came prepared with questions.

The article would be supported by a 2017 grant proposal. Residents would pay $30,000 for the improvements for a project total of $151,000.

During the bidding process, if it's more than the total cost, the committee won't proceed.

Before the committee submits a grant, voters must agree to pay 30 percent of the project cost. If supported, the committee can apply in April and would hear back from VTrans by the fall.

"We don't know what the grant is going to look like," safe road committee chairperson Marie Litowinsky said.

The committee said they don't know if there will be grants available and if there are, it's unsure they'll be awarded.

"We were pretty fortunate to get the scoping [study funds]," committee member Colleen York said. "We were actually surprised we got that. They were pretty optimistic that we would stand a chance if we get the residents to side."

The idea is a result of Act 158 that passed last July that says motorists must give the vulnerable user — bicyclist or walker — four feet of clearance.

Additionally, bicyclists should exercise due care when passing a standing vehicle, should ride as near to the right side of the roadway, and shouldn't ride more than two abreast — or face a fine up to $100.

Incremental changes made in that area include road signage to increase "sharing the road" awareness, discussion of a crosswalk at the school, fog lines to reduce speed and a gravel shoulder to allow people to safely walk.

It's also apparent that bikers use Sunderland Hill Road because Route 7A is too unsafe, and they're prohibited on Route 7.

The amount of 'S' turns make it difficult for cars to pass bikers and walkers without avoiding oncoming traffic.

In 2015 there were four bicycling accidents in Vermont, some fatal, Litowinsky said.. York added that nothing has occurred on Sunderland Hill Road, but incidents are reportedly increasing statewide.

"One of the real challenges we have in our transportation planning work is that people say 'Well there isn't a problem, no one has been injured or killed there,'" said Jim Sullivan from the Bennington County Regional Commission. "The other side of that perspective is maybe the road appears so unsafe and unattractive that people don't go there to start with. So it'll be a little bit hard to evaluate the need.

We're dealing with existing safety problems and trying to improve access."

York said no presentations can be made during Town Meeting, but during the discussion period, but questions about the project can be explained.

The price of the improvement is based off of how much the previous scoping study cost.

That study looked at the distance between the Chiselville bridge to Hill Farm Road to Route 7A. It was encouraged by Vermont's "Walkability Campaign." The state and town divided the cost. It was funded under the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program through VTrans.

Local funding comes from tax revenue directly or through a loan to be paid by tax revenue. The requested amount from the town is not associated with the select board budget or highway fund.

Sullivan said if all goes as planned, approval for the grant would ideally happen in fall 2017, then construction starts in spring, after an engineer fine tunes the design. Due to the small scale project, it would last about a month.

The cost might fluctuate after an engineer evaluates the area, Sullivan added.

"It might be less than [$151,000], it might be more than that. Hopefully it's very close to that," he said. "At that point is when the town really has to make a decision to commit to moving forward."

Town Meeting is on March 6. Voters cast ballots the next day. For more information, visit sunderlandvt.org/town-government/safe-roads.

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471.

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