City construction heats up for summer

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

The Facts

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ST. ALBANS CITY — It’s another summer of construction for St. Albans City residents and visitors, with more than $48 million in public and private funds being invested in the city and an adjacent portion of the town.

On the east side of the city, Northwestern Medical Center (NMC) is in the midst of a $32 million renovation. A new hotel is being built in the heart of downtown, while the city itself is making improvements to above and below ground infrastructure on several main streets.

Most of the disruption of traffic is concentrated on Fairfield and Lake streets.

Last year city voters approved $2.1 million for upgrades of underground infrastructure along Fairfield Street, along with the installation of new sidewalks and curbs.

The city is replacing water and wastewater lines and separating stormwater from wastewater with new catch basins.

A water line already replaced was found to be 120 years old recently, according to Chip Sawyer, the city’s director of planning and development. Workers also found water services installed at the same time in anticipation of future house construction but never used.

The sidewalks and curbs will be installed when that work is complete, after which the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) will repave the road. Paving is not scheduled until September.

Work on Fairfield is ahead of schedule, according to Marty Manahan, the city’s director of business development.

The underground infrastructure between Lincoln and Barlow streets has been replaced. A gravel roadway is being built, and Fairfield will reopen from Barlow Street west to Lincoln on Tuesday.

The section of Fairfield from Smith Street east to the NMC entrance will be closed starting on Tuesday. There will be intermittent closures between Smith and Barlow as utility work begins, according to Peter Cross of Cross Consulting Engineers, who is overseeing the project on behalf of the city.

Traffic will not be allowed to turn onto Fairfield from Smith during the day, according to Manahan.

Drivers have adjusted to the change in traffic patterns, Manahan reported. “The people who don’t have to visit Fairfield Street, don’t even come on Fairfield,” he said.

To keep businesses and residents updated about what is happening, the city sends out regular emails and will leave door hangers at residences, explained Manahan. “People know who to contact if there is an issue,” he said.

NMC renovation

The city isn’t the only one doing work on Fairfield Street. The street’s largest business is in the midst of a major renovation.

“July is when it really starts in full force here,” Jonathan Billings, NMC vice president of planning and community relations, said. “July 11 is the day we’ll relocate the main entrance of the hospital.”

That day NMC will close off its main driveway and direct all traffic to enter the campus via Crest Road, which connects to Fairfield at the eastern edge of the NMC campus.

The road then loops around behind the main building and the Doctors Office Commons.

Visitors and patients will enter the main hospital building from the conference center located on the east side of the building.

There is a parking lot located there with handicapped parking and a designated visitor drop off and pick up location, according to Billings. There is additional parking at the start of Crest Road, where it connects to Fairfield Street.

Once visitors and patients enter the conference center, NMC volunteers will be ready to help people find their way around the hospital. Some services have been moved due to the renovation of the main entrance, so the volunteers are there to help visitors be where they need to, Billings said.

The outpatient lab and Northwestern cardiology and pulmonology services are temporarily located in suite one and suite ten of Doctors Office Commons respectively.

In an emergency, patients will continue to access the emergency services from the same entrance. However, instead of using the main driveway, patients and ambulances will need to enter the campus via Crest Road and loop around the back of the building in order to reach the west side of the hospital.

In total, there will be construction occurring at the main entrance area and at the back of the hospital in the Medical Surgical and Intensive Care Unit.

NMC expects to reopen part of the main entrance, including the driveway, doorway and some parking spaces, in October.

Lake Street

Lake Street, too, is the site of both public and private construction projects.

A new 84-room Hampton Inn is being built in the middle of the street’s easternmost block. At the same time the city is extending streetscape improvements from Main Street to that same block at a cost of $1.6 million.

The block has been closed to eastbound traffic and will remain so throughout the summer and fall, and possibly into 2017.

Water and sewer lines are currently being replaced.

When all of the underground lines have been replaced, work will begin on sidewalks and curbs, explained Sawyer.

Construction has to be coordinated with crews building a five-story, $11 million hotel on the same block. “The projects have been getting along well so far,” said Sawyer.

To improve safety while construction is underway, stop signs have been installed at the Federal, Catherine and Lake intersection.

“You can go straight from Federal to Catherine and vice versa,” said Sawyer. “It’s a demonstration of why we need to put in a four-way stop.”

A four-way stop is planned for that intersection next year, with changes to lanes intended to bring Catherine and Federal into better alignment and improve sight lines. That project is fully permitted, and the city is in the process of acquiring the necessary rights of way, said Sawyer.


Work will begin on the rest of Lake Street later this year when the city installs new sidewalks and curbs from Federal Street west to the city line.

That installation will be part of a $1.5 million upgrade for Main and Lake approved by voters last year.

On Main Street sidewalks and curbs extending north and south from downtown to the city line are being replaced. Work is nearly complete on South Main and demolition of existing sidewalk is getting underway on North Main, according to Manahan.

“The challenges on that project are the driveways and the aprons,” he said. Because of the slopes involved, getting the angle of the driveways right can be tricky, Manahan explained, since there is a slope, a flat sidewalk and then another slope.

To get it right, workers have constructed gravel test drives and had homeowners drive them to make sure the shift from sidewalk to drive wasn’t too steep, according to Manahan.

The city is paving aprons for residences, but not businesses, as part of the project, unless the homeowner requests otherwise.

A number of trees have been taken out as part of the sidewalk work. They will be replaced in the spring, Manahan said.