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Go slow through downtons Brandon; Route 7 culvert work impedes traffic

BRANDON — Route 7 motorists though Brandon may have noticed a change downtown.
Work on the Route 7 overflow culvert began in earnest two weeks ago, creating a new traffic pattern that has business owners at odds with town officials.
The work began on Oct. 12 and by the next morning, the west side of Center Street was cordoned off with construction fencing and both lanes of traffic were shifted east. Roughly 10 parking spaces from in front of the town office building to Kennedy Park were removed to make room for the northbound lane of traffic.
But the change has caused distress among downtown merchants who say their business has already dropped off, and a compromise was forged with the town, although not everyone is happy.
This past Monday night, the Brandon selectboard approved a change in the speed limit from 25 mph to 15 mph from the Mobil station to the Brandon Inn to increase pedestrian safety. Based on concerns from downtown merchants, four parallel parking spaces were added back between Gourmet Provence and Blue Moon Clothing and Gifts late last month.
“So, it’s happening and we have to dig a hole completely across Route 7 and there’s no easy way to do it,” said Town Manager Dave Atherton in an interview. “It’s going to affect people downtown. We understand that this project is going to inconvenience some folks.”
BACKGROUND
The project has been in the works for over four years, since Tropical Storm Irene caused the Neshobe River to flood downtown, causing millions of dollars in damages and displacing and closing several businesses.
The culvert will run from the space formerly occupied by the Brandon House of Pizza, next to the Watershed building under Route 7 and empty out downstream on the other side of Green Park. Work began two weeks ago and is expected to be completed in April 2017.
The $2.1 million project is being funded with 75 percent federal money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the town is providing a 25 percent match. The goal is to prevent future flood events through the downtown, which is essentially built directly over the Neshobe River.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
But despite the fact that the culvert has been years in the planning, many business owners were taken by surprise when the downtown traffic pattern and parking changed, prompting a quickly organized meeting by the Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce with town officials on Oct. 18.
More than 20 people attended the 90-minute meeting at the Town Hall, and both sides agreed that it opened up productive conversation.
But the four parallel parking spaces do pose a threat to the average driver’s side door. There is not much clearance between a parked car and northbound traffic, and both Brandon Police Chief Chris Brickell and Public Works Superintendent Daryl Burlett said last week that there might be problems.
“I personally don’t like two of those parking spaces,” Burlett told the board. “There’s only 22-inches of clearance into traffic. If someone’s driver’s door gets sheared off, the liability is on the town because we created those spaces in a construction zone.”
Brandon selectboard Chair Doug Bailey said changes could always be made. “I think we have to try them,” he said, “but if they don’t work … we don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
And that is the biggest issue for Brickell, who said his officers will enforce the new speed limit.
“We’re just trying to get the public to slow down,” he told the board. “Our issue is public safety. There are business owners that are parking in the crosswalks. We are going to have issues with pedestrian traffic. We have sightline issues to deal with. The impact is going to be a lot of heavy enforcement right at the beginning so we can get people on board. I don’t want us to be the bad guys in this, but I think that’s the way it will be at first.”
Changing the speed limit in the downtown to 15 mph is effective immediately.
Most of parking spaces are available in the lot behind the Mobil station downtown while the culvert project is under way.
“We have to remember, this is all temporary,” Atherton said.
Brickell agreed.
“The best thing to do is have open communication,” Brickell said. “If there is an issue, let me know, let the town know.”
“My door is always open,” Atherton added.

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