State offers $50k for transportation master plan
By ABBY LEDOUX
The town of Georgia will again study its South Village Core, but this time with a $50,000 kickback from the state.
VTrans’ allocation “is not typical,” Northwest Regional Planning Commission assistant director Bethany Remmers said, and indicates the state values the town’s participation in planning for transportation needs.
“Georgia is in a unique situation where we could fund this study with no local match from the town,” Remmers told the Georgia Selectboard at its Sept. 11 meeting.
The $50,000 plus $10,000 already allocated in NRPC’s Fiscal Year 2018 Transportation Planning Work Program would fund creation of a master plan for the SVC, a zoning district envisioned as Georgia’s densest, mixed-used “town center.”
The study area includes Route 7 from Interstate 89 Exit 18 southbound ramps to Meadowood Drive and Route 104A from the Route 7 intersection to Arrowhead Industrial Park.
While VTrans controls 7 and 104A, Remmers noted, the town controls the land around it.
“I feel like they really want this to be a joint effort,” she said of the state.
The master plan will be the latest in a series of studies there over the years, including 2009 and 2013 efforts that ended in engineers’ recommendations for a roundabout.
George Bilodeau, longtime planning commissioner and Georgia’s delegate to the NRPC Transportation Advisory Committee, is a staunch advocate for the circuitous fix.
“We need that roundabout,” he said plainly at the Sept. 11 meeting, suggesting one be installed either at the intersection of 7 and 104A or in place of the current Exit 18.
The latter could facilitate relocating and enlarging the nearby park and ride on Skunk Hill Road, which could trade spots with I-89’s northbound entrance.
Remmers indicated VTrans is “very interested” in relocating the park and ride.
Selectman Ric Nye was concerned green-lighting a new study would only fast track the town to a roundabout, and, unlike Bilodeau, he wasn’t sold on it.
Remmers ensured Nye the study would consider all options – for the intersection, Bilodeau added, there are three on the table: construct a roundabout, install a traffic light or do nothing.
“The intersection is a critical part of the discussion, but it’s not the only thing that needs to be talked about in this corridor,” Remmers said, suggesting the town get ahead of the development targeted for SVC.
Preparing for future growth would include considering questions like whether a series of left-turn lanes fit with Georgia’s desired aesthetic and “feel” for its town center.
Another “intersection of new concern” is Route 7 and Ballard Road, Remmers said, an area not prioritized in past analyses.
The much-discussed 2009 study – which concluded with an engineer’s preference for a roundabout before “conversation ended” – would be a helpful starting place, Remmers added, but the renewed effort would go further, and there are eight additional years of traffic data to consider.
“We need to pick that up and see what’s best for the community and wrap it in with all the other transportation issues that need to be improved,” she said.
NRPC will lead that effort, facilitating the anticipated yearlong project by hiring and managing an engineering firm, leading community outreach efforts and hosting public meetings to solicit input. A mix of town staff and board representatives will join NRPC and VTrans at the table.
The board voted unanimously to enter the master planning effort, which Remmers expects to conclude by Sept. 30, 2018. Project partners were set to meet in the coming weeks to refine the scope of work and retain a consulting engineer.
“Something needs to be done with all that space down there,” selectboard chairman Chris Letourneau said. “It’s a mess trying to get out.”