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High bids to delay South Street work

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury will delay major reconstruction of South Street in wake of much higher-than-anticipated bids for the work, though the selectboard is reviewing some traffic calming measures that could be installed on the busy road in the meantime.
South Street and Green Mountain Place had been in line for a major overhaul, in large part to allow for replacement of water and sewer infrastructure. The surface of South Street has also fallen into disrepair over the years.
The Middlebury selectboard and South Street neighborhood held two recent meetings in an effort to hammer out a mutually acceptable plan to incorporate traffic calming. They are still a ways apart. A neighborhood proposal, dated June 1, includes 11 categories of requests, including physically narrowing the street; strategically placing “pedestrian zone,” “stop” and “25 mph” signs to slow traffic; landscaping; coordinating delivery, trash disposal and other services at Porter Hospital, Eastview at Middlebury and Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation to minimize disruption; putting in a series of crosswalks; and installing two electronic digital speed monitorsin the southbound and northbound directions.
The town’s proposal includes some of the neighborhood’s wants, but not all. For example, the two camps differ on the potential locations of the new cross walks and the town is seeking to narrow South Street to two, 10.5-foot lanes through painted lines and not by physical shrinking the width of the pavement.
Now the town and neighbors will have more time to hash things out. The lowest of the three bids for the South Street/Green Mountain Place project came in at around $700,000 more than the engineer’s estimate of $3.2 million.
“We felt it would serve us better to reject the three bids and look at the project in a different way,” said selectboard Chairman Dean George at a selectboard meeting Tuesday evening. George also chairs the public works committee.
Instead of paring elements of the project or boosting the bottom line by sacrificing other road work on the 2012 docket, the selectboard on Tuesdayagreed to reject the bids and perform the South Street/Green Mountain Place work in three phases. According to Dan Werner, Middlebury’s director of operations, their tentative schedule:
•  Put the Green Mountain Place work out to bid separately for completion this season.
•  Complete half the South Street work in 2013 and the remaining half in 2014.
Breaking the project into phases, George said, “might generate more competitive bidding” and still complete the work in a timely manner.
More than a dozen South Street neighbors turned out at Tuesday’s meeting to share their views on the now-delayed project. Most urged the board to quickly implement some traffic calming elements to the road rather than wait for the reconstruction project.
“We do want to urge you to not put off doing anything about calming traffic on South Street for two years until the road is under construction,” said resident Matt Jennings.
Specifically, Jennings proposed that the board follow through with its plans to extend the 25 mph speed limit up to the unpaved portion of the road, past the Porter Medical Center campus (which it did Tuesday night). He and other neighbors also asked that the town quickly install two electronic speed limit monitors to give drivers a reminder of how fast they are going.
Some neighbors also called for more vigorous speed limit enforcement and a greater police presence in the area.
Resident Ted Perry also recommended a speed limit sign be placed between the hospital and the Porter Field Road intersection as an extra reminder to drivers. He also quoted from a Colorado traffic study that he said demonstrates the safety advantages of having narrower roads.
Resident Hugh Marlowe inquired whether volunteers could be trained to use radar guns and whether speeders could be videotaped as evidence.
Resident Corinna Noelke suggested the town consider a uniform, 25 mph speed limit throughout Middlebury village. Such lower, uniform limits are the norm in her native Germany, she said.
Selectman Victor Nuovo said while such an idea makes sense, he noted the town does not have the right to set limits on some of the state roads bisecting the village.
Selectboard members said they will consider the neighbors’ recommendations, including the speed limit monitors. Erecting such monitors on South Street, they acknowledged, could set a precedent that might generate such requests from residents in other heavily traveled neighborhoods. Indeed, the board on Tuesday fielded a petition from Monroe Street residents requesting safety upgrades to that busy road, which serves homes and the Parent-Child Center of Addison County.
The petition, submitted by resident Lorraine Besser-Jones, indicated the neighborhood had been seeking safety upgrades — specifically sidewalks — for the past eight years.
“At this point we ask you to take action regarding this ongoing safety threat,” reads the petition, signed by 17 Monroe Street residents. “If installing sidewalks is not realistic, it is time to consider what other measures might be taken to make this residential street safe for our community.”
Besser-Jones said the section of Monroe Street that runs from Buttolph Drive to Rogers Road is of particular concern.
“We can’t just wait for something to happen, for someone to get hurt, before we do something,” Besser-Jones said.
Selectboard members on Tuesday agreed to initiate a traffic study to begin the process.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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