ST. ALBANS — The highly accident-prone intersection at Exit 19, which on an average has more than 30,000 vehicles pass through it daily, suffered from the state’s previous approach to road improvements.
That was the assessment of Catherine Dimitruk, executive director of the Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC) on Wednesday.
The Interstate 89 intersection — where a traffic roundabout is being suggested — joined discussion of a recreation path to the nearby sports center, and the Federal Street Multi-modal Connector as agenda items last week during a visit by the House Transportation Committee and officials from the Agency of Transportation.
Under the previous system, Dimitruk explained, the developer whose project increased intersection traffic enough to trigger the need for improvements had to pay for them. As a result, new developments meant small changes rather than an overall upgrade of the intersection.
At Exit 19 that resulted in an intersection with a level of service of D. During the evening commute, the level of service actually drops to an F.
Last year the Vermont Legislature made it possible to collect impact fees for roads so that communities would have money as new developments occurred near an area in need of improvement, such as Exit 19, and then make one global upgrade.
Because of that, “We’re going to be able to look at this intersection in a comprehensive, long-term way,” said Dimitruk.
Exit 19 has been designated a high-crash area, with accidents in the past five years, said Bethany Demers of NRPC.
A 2010 traffic study found that 14,000 cars a day entered the intersection on Route 104 from St. Albans, while another 12,000 approached from the Interstate Access Road. From Fairfax, 7,300 cars entered the intersection.
The 2010 analysis looked at several possible improvements to the intersection before determining a roundabout was the best option. A two-lane roundabout would bring the intersection to a level of service A and would maintain that level of service even with the traffic levels predicted for 2030.
The proposed roundabout would be 180 feet in diameter, with a 90-foot center, two 15-foot wide traffic lanes and a 14-foot truck apron. The projected cost is $2.1 million.
“One of the challenges of getting this project off the ground has been the cost,” said Dimitruk. Because of the location and the large open area in the center there are “great opportunities here to do some exciting work” in stormwater management, she added.
Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter spoke of the greater safety of roundabouts. “People slow down,” she said. “People will run a red light, but they do not run through the middle of a roundabout.”
Steve Beauregard, director of public works for St. Albans Town, asked whether roundabouts reduce the number of crashes or just the number of injuries. “My understanding is it reduces crashes dramatically,” said Minter.
Beauregard asked if it might be possible to connect these improvements to the town’s other large infrastructure project, a recreational path to the Collins Perley Sports & Fitness Center. Dimitruk answered that it was.
St. Albans Town Manager Carrie Johnson presented the town’s plan for the path. Although town voters rejected the $1.8 million proposal on Town Meeting Day, Johnson said the town is looking for ways to reduce the cost and hopes to eventually place the project before voters again.
“What we heard repeatedly was there was a lot of support for this project,” said Johnson. “They’d just like to see a more reasonable number.”
The proposed path was more than a mile long and was 10 feet wide, with lighting.
The original intent was to provide a safe route for St. Albans Town Educational Center students to get to the sports complex, but it would also have connected seniors living at the Grice Brook housing development, as well as residents of both the city and town, to the complex. “A lot of seniors in this area supported this project,” said Johnson.
People walk and bike along the Interstate Access Road, which was not designed for any traffic other than vehicles, said Johnson. “They are trying to use this road now and it’s just not safe,” she said.
At a low elevation area the trail would have passed under the access road. Johnson said it was not an underpass, but an “at level crossing.”
The town also considered going over the access road but that possibility as extremely unpopular with some of the residents in the area, said Johnson.
St. Albans City
The visitors also got a brief look at the new state office building and downtown streetscape improvements, particularly the stormwater management components.
“Crime is down, storefronts are filling,” city manager Dominic Cloud told the visitors, while discussing the new state office building, municipal parking garage, and planned hotel for Lake Street.
“These wouldn’t haven happened without public-private partnership,” he said.
“The work that’s been done on Main Street is a perfect example of what we’re trying to do in Vermont,” said Rep. Pat Brennan, R-Colchester, who chairs the transportation committee.
Minter called the city an example of how investment in transportation can drive economic development, as the Main Street improvements have drawn businesses to downtown.
Federal St. connector
The city’s next major infrastructure project is the long-planned Federal Street connector.
St. Albans City Director of Planning and Development Chip Sawyer began a presentation on the Federal Street connector by stating, “It’s a project whose idea is older than I am.”
He then walked legislators through the plan to create an alternative north and south route through St. Albans City by connecting the Interstate Access Road to Lower Newton Street along Federal Street.
Drivers already use the corridor as an alternative, and many of the streets were not designed to handle the resulting traffic. The planned connector would make improvements all along the route.
Using a $2 million earmark provided through the efforts of he late Sen. Jim Jeffords R.-Vt., the city has been going through the required federal design process and purchasing the necessary rights of way.
“This project will very soon be shovel-ready from end to end, but without federal funding will never come to fruition,” said Sawyer.
The city has been seeking federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) funds for the first phase of the project, an upgrade to the intersection at Lake and Federal streets. In seeking grant funds the city has to balance having a project substantial enough to interest federal funders with one for which the city can supply the required matching funds, explained Sawyer.
“We’re going to continue to help move that project forward,” said Minter, of Federal Street.