Construction season arrives with projects

Fairfield, Lake Street changes start soon

Joel Lehman

By Joel Lehman

Managing Editor

The Facts

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ST. ALBANS — More big changes are in store for the landscape of downtown St. Albans, including streetscaping for the easternmost block of Lake Street, a hotel, new sidewalks, curbs bike lanes and paving for some of the city’s busiest streets.

But first, drivers and pedestrians must cope with another round of construction detours and delays this spring and summer.

Major projects are set to kick off in April, including the repaving of Fairfield Street and the beginning of construction on Lake Street and the planned hotel near the top of Lake and Main streets.

Cold planing on Fairfield Street, from Main to the city limit near Northwestern Medical Center, will begin April 4. While access to business and residences along the street will continue, traffic delays are expected, said Marty Manahan, St. Albans City Director of Operations & Business Development, in a recent Front Porch Forum post.

The project also includes removing concrete below the road surface, replacing sewer and water lines and installing new sidewalks and curbs. The Vermont Agency of Transportation will then repave Fairfield Street, a project that is expected to last the entire summer.

Later in April, construction will begin on Lake Street as well as the new hotel planned for 43 Lake St. near the top of the block, said Chip Sawyer, St. Albans City Director of Planning and Development.

Although no specific start date has been set for the 84-room Hampton Inn, developed by PeakCM in conjunction with St. Albans City, groundbreaking should begin in mid- to late-April, Sawyer said. Plans are for the hotel to open next April, he added.

The $11 million hotel is the final piece of a downtown redevelopment project that also includes the parking garage and state office buildings completed in 2014.

Growth in St. Albans City’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District has allowed the $16 million investment in downtown properties and landscaping. It’s those funds that prepared the Hampton Inn hotel site in conjunction with PeakCM’s investment.

Grants and TIF funds are also backing the extension of the streetscape design from Main Street down Lake Street to the intersection with Catherine and Federal streets. The streetscape work will be done in conjunction with the construction of the new hotel.

A pre-construction meeting including VTrans, PeakCM and City officials will approve a bid yet to be awarded to a contractor for the Lake Street project, Sawyer said.

“After that, things will happen quickly,” he said.

Sawyer said that the Lake Street construction will continue through the rest of 2016 and into 2017, lasting about a year. During that time, Lake Street will only have one-way traffic westbound. He added that cars can use Catherine, Federal and Kingman streets in a grid as a detour.

That construction includes work on sidewalks, curbs, storm drains, water and sewer lines on Fairfield, Lake and Main streets prior to the repaving of those roads by the state.

The construction downtown will also add bike lanes to Main and Lake streets, and a change in City ordinances will alter parking regulations.

The first change is a rule blocking parking within 50 feet of an intersection, one that is rarely enforced in the city. The new rule will reduce that to 20 feet, bringing the city’s ordinances in line with state and federal requirements. The council has also voted to bar parking from areas where on-street parking is used infrequently to create room for bike lanes on Main, Lake and Fairfield streets.

To improve the functioning of the Main, Lake and Fairfield intersection, the new ordinance will allow the city to create no-stop areas to prevent vehicles waiting to turn from blocking access to streets.

Streetscape construction is also planned for Kingman Street, but that won’t begin until 2017 or 2018, Sawyer said. That project is still in the design phase.

Sawyer said that the City was able to learn much from the major construction projects on Main Street downtown during the summer of 2014, when sidewalks, parking, stormwater systems and lighting were all overhauled, changing the very face of St. Albans.

“The whole community learned a lot about how to get around during temporary inconveniences,” Sawyer said. “I think we learned that with good communication, we can be sure to respect the project’s needs and the daily changes that come with it.”

Sawyer added that the business mix on Lake and Federal streets is different from Main’s. Many of the businesses affected this summer rely less on foot traffic than the stores and restaurants on Main Street downtown.

“We try to be sensitive to their needs, part of being good ambassadors for the community,” Sawyer said.