In 2004 a study was conducted under a state planning grant with the purpose of making Depot Street more pedestrian friendly and calming traffic to a degree.
Prior to 2004, it was believed Depot Street - also known as Route 11/30 - would serve as a gateway to Manchester. The State came in and assisted with some changes and created three lanes because of high traffic volume. Now, however, town officials are looking to create a better balance between pedestrian and vehicular, said Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Lee Krohn.
According to Director of the Bennington County Regional Commission, Jim Sullivan, the consultants who created the study came up with three concepts. One was to add on-street parking - which would likely result in 8-foot parking lanes on both sides of the street. The other concepts included installing a center median which could be landscaped or narrowing the roadway by creating a green strip.
One of the next steps that will be taken by the BCRC is to update the study, identify any new impacts that might exist and then establish what the preferred option would be.
Of the three concepts, the members of the planning commission who were present - of which there were only three, resulting in the lack of a quorum to take any action by way of a vote - were in favor of creating an island in the middle of the roadway.
Having islands in the middle of the roadway would not only calm the traffic, but it would also provide a safe haven for pedestrians attempting to cross what is now a three lane roadway.
While that may be the preference of the some of the board members, Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Lee Krohn said not everyone is in favor of the concept.
"The fire chief (Phil "Grub" Bourn) has made his opinion clear that he would prefer the street remain as is. Clearly that facilitates all traffic including emergency vehicles," said Krohn. "The Highway Foreman (Geoff Sprankle), DPW Director (Jeff Williams), [are] clearly less than enthusiastic about adding more impediments to the street maintenance [and] snow plowing."
Sullivan said that the concerns expressed by Bourn, Sprankle and Williams were ones that they hear often in regards to projects like this, but he also indicated they were not to be taken lightly.
"If it takes more time and effort to plow the road, if there's the potential for some traffic tie up when you're trying to [send] a fire truck down through there and there's not room so it's going to add a little bit to the response time, I mean that's a real issue," said Sullivan. "But at the same time so is the quality of the street scape, business vitality and safety."
With the recent completion of the roundabout, Krohn said there seems to be excitement among some members of the community in regards to further improvements throughout town including the possible improvements to the Depot Street corridor.
"I think it's good timing. I think there's a lot of interest in what might happen next," Krohn said.
Since the roundabout was a significant and expensive project, Krohn said that for this potential project the planning commission would likely focus on "what's achievable, what's manageable and what's important" while also keeping it simpler and affordable. However, resident Ed Morrow encouraged the board to approach the project differently.
"I would still urge you to think more in terms of a more grandiose plan," said Morrow.
He continued to say that even if they couldn't achieve all the parts of the plan at once - which could potentially include things like moving the electric substation and backlotting utilities - then perhaps they could accomplish the pieces of the plan in stages.
With a project of this magnitude being contemplated, resident Ron Mancini raised the issue of the public process and urged the board to solicit input from the public.
"Having a public forum, I think the community [is] primed for that," said Mancini. "If the planning commission thinks this is a worthwhile project and it [is] a public works project you should start the community dialogue."
Burr and Burton Academy student board member Stella Oh recommended that the board hold a meeting at BBA to talk about the potential project and receive student input - an idea that was well received by members of the board.
The next planning commission meeting is scheduled for May 20 and Krohn said the board intends to reach out to the community prior to that meeting.