MacDonough Drive solution in the works

July 2, 2007
VERGENNES — A solution is in the works for the buckled section of MacDonough Drive near Main Street in Vergennes, but drivers can plan on using the side-street detours for a few more weeks.
In one of several June 26 agenda items devoted to infrastructure issues, City Manager Renny Perry told aldermen that he had in hand engineering estimates for three different approaches for fixing the sagging MacDonough Drive roadbed and repaving about 150 feet of its surface.
The combination approach most likely to solve the problem — drainage work above the road, a roadbed rebuild and a downslope retaining wall — came in at $300,000, Perry said, while the less-sure solutions including only some of the above elements would cost $75,000 or $150,000.
But Perry also told aldermen that he had obtained a preliminary quote from a local company for “significantly lower that the first estimate ($75,000)” for all the elements that had been estimated at $300,000.
The contractor will dig test pits to confirm his bid this week, Perry said, but can’t begin the project in earnest until late this month at the earliest. Perry will seek a second local bid, but regardless believes the detour will remain in place for at least the next few weeks.
Aldermen last week moved $40,000 of paving money from the 2007 fiscal year into their new budget. At Perry’s recommendation aldermen halted other paving projects to devote money to solve the problem that forced Perry to close MacDonough Drive this spring.
Based on Perry’s discussion with one contractor, that $40,000 may be enough to do so despite the higher engineering estimates.
“It looks like it will be within money we do have,” he said.
But that fix will not solve all of MacDonough Drive’s problems, which Perry said run right from that stretch to Northlands Job Corps. To illustrate the issue, Perry pointed to a sidewalk that runs along MacDonough Drive; it has buckled and has sections that no longer meet, but was perfectly flat and straight when installed.
Essentially, water from the hillside above the road and possibly from Otter Creek is shifting the road, he said.
“This (closed section) is the most dramatic, but all along, MacDonough Drive … is sliding toward the river,” he said. 
Phelps Engineering Inc. of Middlebury is conducting a grant-funded study of the larger problems. A solution might be expensive, and grants might be hard to come by, Perry said.
“If it’s a real major fix, we’d have to look at it as a capital project, and it may even require bonding to fix it,” he said.
Aldermen on June 26 also dealt with another issue around the corner from MacDonough Drive — how to safely get pedestrians across the waterfall side of the Otter Creek bridge.
Engineer and city resident Greg Edwards of Stantec Consulting Services Inc. of South Burlington presented four alternatives for building a sidewalk on the falls side, a project Perry said he would recommend only if grants could pay for it.
Perry had earlier recommended a plan in which the traveled lanes on the bridge be narrowed from 15 feet to about 13 feet, a change that would allow a sidewalk to be added on the bridge deck for about $145,000.
But last week Perry said that the Agency of Transportation would not allow the lanes to be narrowed, and that he had also concluded that the slimmer bridge would be unsafe for traffic and cyclists.
“We’ve scrapped that option … It’s just too tight,” Perry said.
That left three choices, all of which would also mean the city would extend a sidewalk to the bridge from MacDonough Drive:
• Building an unattached pedestrian bridge for about $870,000.
• Widening the bridge by about six feet to create room for a sidewalk on the deck for about $755,000
• Attaching a pedestrian bridge to the existing structure for about $435,000.
Edwards and Perry recommended and aldermen backed the cheaper option, although Edwards said maintaining an attached pedestrian bridge, which would have a metal frame and a poured concrete walking surface, would be more expensive.
But Edwards said because the Route 22A bridge would probably receive a major overhaul or be replaced within 20 years it made sense in this case.
“It is a cost-effective way (to proceed) for a 10-to-20-year life,” he said.
Perry said the bridge would provide access to the Grist Mill Island and Pump House Island, which is city-owned and could be a tourist attraction. Later in the week he said many residents and Goodrich Aerospace employees would also make use of the bridge. 
At the meeting local resident and yoga instructor Carolyn Connor urged the council to support the pedestrian bridge.
“It feels unsafe to walk where the sidewalk is now,” she said. “It’s a huge value to the community members who live on the other side to prove a pedestrian walkway that is safe.”
Alderman David Austin voted against the motion, saying that the cost of the project could not be predicted in advance and that even grant money should not be spent freely.
“I’m guilty of this, too. We treat this like monopoly money. It’s taxpayer dollars,” Austin said.
But Mayor Michael Daniels said grant funds are already earmarked for local projects.
“The money is going to be taken by somebody,” Daniels said.
Perry said grants could come from an Agency of Transportation enhancement program, the source of funding for the study that was unveiled at the meeting, although the bridge would have to be built in phases because of a $300,000 program cap.  Another possible source would be the National Scenic Byways program, which the city has successfully tapped in the past.
The city could fund its 20 percent match from either a fund established by Green Mountain Power to pay the city for using Otter Creek to generate power with the falls, or from a fund fed by cellular phone companies who pay to hang broadcast equipment on the city’s former water tower. Neither would require taxpayer outlay, Perry said.
One more infrastructure project came up at the meeting last week. Perry said Vermont Youth Conservation Corps volunteers were working on the “Rail Trail,” a walking trail intended to link the Otter Creek basin with the AOT commuter lot now being built near Kayhart Crossing. Perry said that grant-backed project, started under previous city manager Randy Friday, is now “severely under-funded” because costs have risen over the years. 
Perry said he has relied on Northlands Job Corps and conservation corps volunteers because of the funding shortfall, but would probably ask city workers to turn their attention to the trail because the grant expires this year.

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