The town of Milton selected its preferred new design of Milton’s busiest intersection last week.
More than two decades of studies and forums have looked at how to improve the junction of Railroad Street, Middle Road and Route 7, and on Monday, Nov. 19, the Selectboard unanimously chose to move forward with what engineers call the full hourglass design.
The configuration would construct two new roads – called northern and southern legs – connecting Middle Road and Railroad Street to Route 7 (see illustration, page 2.) Near the southern leg, the design includes a right-turn lane for traffic moving north on Route 7.
The proposal, prepared by engineers at Resource Systems Group for the town and Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, also includes bike lanes, crosswalks and sidewalks. It leaves potential to develop a future green space, parking area or another facility where the current X-shaped intersection sits.
In addition to the hourglass, RSG presented four other alternatives:
- No change at all,
- A four-way signalized intersection,
- A hybrid roundabout, realigning all four approaches to the existing intersection into a rotary; and
- A modified hourglass, including only the northern leg, which would remove Middle Road’s Route 7 access.
The scoping report presented Monday night warns the preferred design requires substantial rights-of-way acquisitions. It also had the largest estimated price tag at $2.98 million before any property discussions.
“That’s a variable: [Right-of-way acquisition] can be a very expensive, very long, very difficult process,” RSG project engineer Corey Mack said.
The hourglass southern leg cuts through property owned by Essex Jct. resident Sotos Papaseraphim, on which sits an empty restaurant and apartment building. The northern leg would impact the parcel housing TransParent Computers and DanceWorks Academy, owned by Westford resident Jamie Parent.
Vocal meeting attendees mostly supported the full hourglass design over the others. About 12 people came to the meeting.
“[The full hourglass] gives a character for downtown that is missing today,” said Demetrios Michaelides, a Middle Road property owner. “It’s more pedestrian-friendly; a lot safer.”
Michaelides also owns the Donny’s N.Y. Pizza building on Main Street in Winooski and has a front-row seat to watch traffic on the circulator there. He was one of many people against building a traffic circle of any kind in Milton.
Roger Dickinson, a Miltonite and traffic engineer whose firm worked on a roundabout in Montpelier, added that constructing rotaries is difficult, as well.
“You have to maintain traffic,” he said. “If you thought [construction] this summer was bad, try and build a roundabout. It’s 10 times worse.”
Dickinson said the full hourglass would successfully separate traffic patterns.
“We have three intersections now that are essentially at very sharp angles, [are] uncontrolled and are difficult to see,” he said, adding that the full hourglass is a safer alternative.
The intersection is ranked on VTrans’ most recent high-crash location list, with 14 collisions between 2006 and 2010. But in a follow-up interview, Mack said the designation won’t necessarily convince the state to fund the project.
“If rights-of-way issues can’t be sorted out, I don’t think state will want to get involved,” he said.
But the Selectboard selecting a design is the first necessary step. If the town can convince the state the public backs the project, it’s in a better spot to get funding, Mack said.
Representatives of Pomerleau Real Estate, the company developing the Hannaford shopping plaza, strongly favored the full hourglass design, because it would enhance current properties’ potential, Development Coordinator Tracey Schoonmaker said.
She gave Selectboard members a printout of the company’s “idealized” vision, which shows a landscaped green space with a park shelter, fountain and sculptures.
Schoonmaker said her company has heard from various residents who want Milton to have an identity.
“They want to be a beautiful town with continuity, consistency [and] a clear message that you’re in Milton now,” she said. “This is the only one that creates a defined, large green space … You could do any number of wonderful things with this piece.”
Selectboard member John Bartlett asked if the firm could help acquire rights-of-way to make it happen. Schoonmaker said Pomerleau is open to discussions.
“It’s what we are thinking would be ideal down the road,” she said. “Not only is it the best design for us, but I think it’s the best design for Milton.”
Milton resident and Artists’ Guild member Amy Cook agreed, saying the design has vision in that it enhances pedestrian travel and aesthetics.
Selectboard Chairman Lou Mossey said though a park in Milton’s town core “would be a wonderful thing to have,” the town has to balance VTrans’ and surrounding landowners’ needs.
“The green space could even have to be a parking lot to service those businesses if there’s no consensus to make that common land,” Mossey said, drawing an audible gasp from an audience member.
Papaseraphim, who has been reluctant to authorize rights-of-way on his property, said he preferred to nix the southern leg, because that impacts his land. He wondered how the chosen design would affect access to his property from both Middle Road and Route 7.
Mossey said negotiations would answer those questions.
“We’ll come to a conclusion and make everything fair for everybody,” the Selectboard chairman said.
Before moving to accept the plan, Mossey said the board should look forward.
“We’re concentrating a lot of living and shopping space [in that area],” he said. “We need to be as far-looking as possible, and we have to sell that to VTrans and whoever else is funding the project.”
Selectman John Gifford said he didn’t initially plan to support the full hourglass, because it requires property negotiations and is expensive. But after Tuesday’s discussion, he changed his mind.
“If there’s potential to do it wrong, it’s better to do it right up front,” Gifford said.
The Selectboard didn’t discuss how to fund the project and did not plan a timeframe. Mossey cautioned it would “take considerable time” to ready the project for construction.
Mack, who is now updating the final design plan, agreed.
“I can’t really venture a guess as to when it would happen,” he said. “It’s not going to be this spring.”
The project is one of nearly 20 included in Milton’s town core tax-increment financing plan, which would require borrowing a voter-authorized bond to fund 20 percent of project costs, Town Manager Brian Palaia said. The rest would require federal and state dollars.
To read the Route 7/Middle Rd./Railroad St. scoping study and other documents related to the project, visit www.ccrpcvt.org/transportationscoping/us7-middle. For more information or to provide your comments, call CCRPC Planner Jason Charest at 660-4071 ext. 32 or RSG engineer Corey Mack at 383-0118 ext. 314.