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Residents, officials consider Monroe Street safety

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Monday told more than a half-dozen Monroe Street residents that the town would study, in Chairman Dean George’s words, “traffic-calming and other alternatives” to make a short stretch of their road safer.
That study, to be done by the town’s public works committee, followed remarks at the board’s Monday meeting from residents that they felt there was a problem on a road that students walk on to reach the town’s high, elementary and middle schools; that residents often walk and bike on; and is used by a number of motorists as an alternative to Court Street.
“It’s kind of scary at times,” said Jim Bruce, and Lorraine Besser-Jones said, “For anyone who walks on the street, it’s an unsafe thing.”
The board’s decision also followed a report at the meeting by Police Chief Tom Hanley that the traffic on Monroe Street is not “exceptionally heavy” and that he had found no history of accidents on the road.
The board also heard an estimate from public works head Dan Werner that it would cost about $225,000 to install sidewalk on the 0.19-mile stretch in question between Buttolph Drive and Rogers Road.
“The dilemma is the drainage,” Werner said. “It is a pretty expensive project.”
Selectman Victor Nuovo was the most vocal on Monday in supporting the residents’ cause. He called Monroe Street an “accidental bypass,” and said that even though Hanley’s study showed a moderate number of cars that he suspected that many of those cars were “bunched” at certain times of day.
“I would think that number would be excessive,” he said.
At the same time, Nuovo acknowledged the sidewalk was a “costly” answer, and board members did not speak in favor of that approach.
Nuovo did support resident Ted Shambo’s proposal of blocking off the intersection of Monroe Street and Rogers Road, which connects Monroe with Court Street near the Hannaford plaza.
“Then we’ll have a safe little street,” Shambo said.
That idea did not spark vocal support among board members, but there were other suggestions made by town officials and residents:
•  Resident Jackie Nienow suggested establishing pathways toward the high and middle schools, like those that connect Buttolph Acres with Mary Hogan School. George said they could possibly run from Woodland Park to Monroe Street and from Rogers Road through the Danyow Drive area to Court Street, and one suggestion after the meeting was to better connect Overbrook Drive with Thomas Street. Selectwoman Susan Shashok also backed the pathway concept.
•  Town planner Fred Dunnington called narrowing the traveled roadway “a proven way” to slow traffic.
•  Bruce suggested speed bumps or dips.
•  Hanley noted that striping off pedestrian walkways along Monroe had been considered eight years ago, when the problem was also studied and the three-way stop was installed at the intersection of Monroe and Buttolph Drive.
•  Werner said a long-term solution was to fix the intersection of Monroe and Charles streets where they both meet Route 7. If they aligned directly across from one another, traffic flow would be more efficient (20 percent more, he said after the meeting) and drivers would be less inclined to use Monroe Street as a bypass. “It’s well documented that intersection needs to be straightened out,” Werner said.
George said the public works committee would probably focus on less costly choices, and said he did not favor shutting off Rogers Road.
“If there are other solutions … they should be considered first,” George said.
In other business, the selectboard:
•  Heard a plea from Addison County Transit Resources executive director Jim Moulton for a $3,000 increase in annual funding to $10,000. The board eventually said no because of its tight budget; spending is being driven higher by fire bond payments, and the grand list has not grown.
The board also denied a similar $3,000 request that had been submitted earlier from the Addison County Economic Development Corp., but granted one from the Addison County Parent-Child Center because, members said, it had been promised in 2012.
•  Approved a “conceptual agreement” with the Vermont Agency of Transportation for a grant to help fund replacement of the railroad overpasses on Main Street and Merchants Row. Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said the town and VTrans have agreed the town will eventually manage the project, with former town manager Bill Finger returning to oversee the work as a consultant.
•  Agreed to buy a new Dodge Charger police cruiser from Foster Motors Inc. for $23,282. Foster was the low bidder.
•  Adopted an $8.94 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, subject to March voter approval, and set a Jan. 22 public hearing on the plan (See story, Page 1A). The budget, if adopted, will mean a 5.5-cent tax increase due to town spending before any effect from school spending.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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