SWANTON — The proposed sidewalk from First Street to Missisquoi Valley Union school will continue up Thunderbird Drive.
Economic development coordinator Elisabeth Nance shared that update at Swanton’s joint board meeting Wednesday night, which gathered representatives from the town selectboard, development review board, planning commission and village board of trustees.
Nance and selectperson Joel Clark previously said the grant application needed a tentative plan to get students from the intersection of First Street and Thunderbird Drive up to the school for the Vermont Agency of Transportation to consider it competitive. The application is for the federally funded construction and design category of VTrans’ Bicycle and Pedestrian Program.
In response to a question from planning commissioner Ed Daniel, Nance said she spoke with school board members in June and clarified they would support some form of path along Thunderbird Drive.
One early idea was a path cutting through the surrounding woods, reducing the length of the sidewalk that would cut in front of residential properties. Nance said the school board did not support that idea due to safety concerns regarding kids walking unsupervised through a section of forest.
Daniel said nearby homeowners are concerned about any portion of their yard they might lose to the sidewalk. Nance said the design process will include public input, while Clark noted those homeowners have already had multiple chances to officially express those concerns — two public hearings, for example — and that homeowners have taken those chances to do so.
Clark said the town aims to do as much as possible to respect those homeowners’ space.
“We want to do everything we can to minimize the impact,” Clark said, “but we’re trying to do something that we think is going to be, overall, better and safer for the community.”
The proposal for the MVU sidewalk stemmed from years of concern, expressed by town and village officials and the public at various meetings, over the safety of students walking First Street to MVU, especially since that path crossed the Interstate 89 access ramps.
The MVU sidewalk application was one of three Nance submitted at the fiscal year’s end in June, one on behalf of the village, two on behalf of the town.
The other town application was for a scoping study on safety improvements to Maquam Shore Road. The town applied for the grant after a group of the road’s residents appeared with pedestrian safety concerns before the selectboard and urged town officials to apply.
The village application was for a scoping study of safety improvements to Merchants Row, which is notoriously difficult for pedestrians and drivers to traverse, and dangerous as well, given its proximity to Vermont Route 78 and the visibility-reducing Depot Street hill.
Nance said that study would help village officials “finally figure out … how can we make that safer for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists,” including possible reconfigurations of the parking area.
VTrans announces the grant awards toward the end of August.
“I’m feeling pretty hopeful,” Nance said.
She reiterated state officials’ promise that the agency will independently evaluate each application, that no application will cancel out the others.
Meanwhile, Reg Beliveau Jr., the village manager, reminded the audience the village successfully obtained grant funding for its own sidewalk, less than a quarter-mile from King Street to Brown Avenue last year.
Beliveau said the sidewalk’s design was recently approved. Nance asked if that meant the sidewalk will be constructed this year.
“I hope so, because the grant ends in December,” Beliveau said, with a sheepish grin.
“So yes,” he concluded.
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