SWANTON TOWN — The town selectboard is now actively pursuing another long-discussed safety measure: a stoplight at the foot of the Interstate 89 access ramps.
The board directed David Jescavage, the town administrator, to draft a letter to the Vermont Agency of Transportation urging VTrans to take action on the proposed stoplight.
Selectperson Joel Clark suggested a joint letter with the Town of Highgate. Clark said traffic issues at the Swanton exit, Exit 21, affects Highgate residents as well.
The topic arose amid discussion of the town’s sidewalk to the Missisquoi Valley Union School.
VTrans’ Bike and Pedestrian Program recently granted the town funding to construct a sidewalk from First Street to MVU on Thunderbird Lane.
Multiple incarnations of the selectboard have consistently spoke in favor of the proposed sidewalk, the idea being to safely carry MVU students along the highly trafficked First Street, which cuts across the I-89 access ramps.
Cross Consulting completed designs for the sidewalk in 2016.
The topic of a stoplight to organize and slow traffic coming off the Interstate came up at public hearings on Cross’s designs then, but engineers informed residents that was essentially out of the town’s hands, that state officials would have to take action to build the stoplight.
But state officials at the board’s meeting Tuesday spoke in favor of the project.
In fact, Dave Blackmore, VTrans’ northwest region administrator, said the stoplight “really should be connected” with the MVU sidewalk project.
Blackmore said town officials are “on the right track” in preparing a joint letter with the Town of Highgate, and also told the board discussions about the stoplight have happened within VTrans.
The practicality of the stoplight goes further than MVU student safety.
Several of those in the room, both on the board and in the audience, mentioned regular congestion at Swanton’s I-89 exit, even backing up on to the Interstate itself.
Jim Cota, of VTrans’ maintenance and operations bureau, said that’s another situation of which VTrans officials are aware.
House Rep. Brian Savage, who attended the meeting to tell the board the chair of the House Transportation Committee plans to tour the community, also told the board a proposed industrial park at the Franklin County State Airport, in Highgate, could only make Interstate traffic congestion worse.
Village trustee Adam Paxman, who effectively began the discussion by asking if the traffic light was a planned part of the sidewalk project, said making the traffic light happen comes down to community support.
“The community has to buy into this,” Paxman said.
But Dan Billado, the selectboard’s chair, said he didn’t think the community would hesitate to relieve that congestion.
Immediately ahead of the discussion, the selectboard carried a motion to sign the grant funding agreement with VTrans regarding the MVU sidewalk.
That contract requires a $158,000 match from Swanton over a four-year period.
Clark warned the board of that responsibility, without suggesting the board shouldn’t sign that contract. He also reminded the board the town could apply for more grant funding to ease the financial burden.
“It’s a big project, and we asked for it,” Clark said. “...It’s just an awareness [of the financial responsibilities], that’s all.”
And Elisabeth Nance, the community’s economic development coordinator, told the board the project could well take more than the planned four years. She said the Town of Franklin is now in the tenth year of its own sidewalk project.