MANCHESTER >> Town officials are hoping to hear feedback and comments from local residents on an upcoming public project not slated to begin until 2018, but which has already generated its share of interest.
A proposal to overhaul Depot Street, one of the town's main commercial thoroughfares, from the Roundabout to Richville Road, has obtained $520,000 in federal funding through a grant which will be administered by VTRANS, the state's transportation agency. The town will also be contributing $60,000 in local funds as a required match, which was approved by voters during March Town Meeting.
Earlier descriptions of the project included some significant changes from its present three-lane configuration, which was developed in the early 1980s. Two bicycle lanes, intermittent "refuge islands" to make crossing the busy street safer, other pedestrian amenities such as streetlights, improved sidewalks, and perhaps a new pedestrian crosswalk, have been discussed. The width of the lanes set aside for motor vehicles, currently 14-feet, would be narrowed slightly.
Much like the "walk and talk" tours currently underway and being led by the town's Planning Commission, town officials have scheduled a "walk and bike" tour of Depot Street for Wednesday, May 25, beginning at 5 p.m. The tour will start at the Factory Point Town Green and make its way down Depot Street, returning to the town green for a follow up discussion.
The idea is to help town officials and the engineering consultants who will be working on the project hear from townspeople and residents about what they would like to see addressed and improved, said Town Manager John O'Keefe.
"We have a broad vision of what we want," he said. "Better bike and pedestrian access; easier access across the road," which might mean moving a crosswalk currently near Price Chopper a little further down the street and closer to the Discount Beverage store, he added.
The town hopes to encourage more walking, as well as making access and travel safer for bicyclists along the street, in part by installing more streetlights, he said.
"We keep talking about having more nightlife in Manchester, but Depot Street is the busiest street in town and not well lit," he said.
At the same time, Depot Street isn't going to be changed so radically that cars and other vehicles won't be able to easily drive along it as they do now, said Pauline Moore, the town's economic development officer.
"It has to be a road that works for everyone," she said. Concerns that it will be impossible to make left-handed turns are unfounded, she added — "People will still be able to turn into the stores."
Following the "walk and bike" tour on May 25, more public forums are planned later this year to review and narrow down the options, Moore said.
All the construction work is expected to take place within a single year, and won't be starting until 2018, she said.
The town also hopes to upgrade some sewer lines between Cottage Street and the area near Riverside Drive while work is being done on the rest of the road. Some of the work may be done at night to minimize traffic disruption, O'Keefe said.
There are no road closures planned and the scale of the work planned won't be on a par with that performed when the street was last overhauled back in the 1980s, or more recently, when the Roundabout was under construction in 2012-13.
"The town has a lot of experience coming off the Roundabout," he said. "This isn't our first, or biggest rodeo."