Plans to reconfigure Milton’s trickiest intersection were generally well received at a meeting with the Vermont Agency of Transportation on Monday.
Officials estimated a 2021 construction start for the Route 7-Middle Road-Railroad Street intersection, once considered a state-ranked high crash location and a junction the town has aimed to fix for decades.
VTrans hoped to exit the meeting with an official OK from the Milton Selectboard on the project’s concept—the so-called “hourglass” design—an estimated timeline and projected costs. The board decided to delay an official consensus until its next meeting.
The town has already secured $2.8 million in tax increment financing funds for the project, which will construct two new roads that connect to Route 7, easing traffic congestion and safety. The total construction cost is $4.6 million, which includes a federal grant.
The project will rip up 1,800 feet of Route 7, including the concrete base, and rebuild 11-foot travel lanes, plus 5-foot sidewalks and bike lanes of the same width on both sides of the road. It will also degrade the existing “superelevation” on Route 7 to encourage the existing 25-mph speed limit, engineer Tom Bigelow said.
Though the forum was technically about the state’s role in the project, many of the 30 or so audience members had more questions for the town.
Lloyd Gilbert asked how much land acquisition will cost: The design will construct two new roads—one an extension of the existing Whisper Lane to Railroad Street and the other a brand-new passage from Route 7 to Middle Road.
The roads will cut through properties currently housing TransParent Computers and Dance Works Academy studio on the north end and the North Country Saloon on the south. All three buildings would be razed, leaving a 2.3-acre green space in the center.
Town manager Don Turner said the town secured an option with northern parcel’s owner, Jamie Parent, for $100,000. He declined to share the purchase price until the sale is final.
The town also has a signed MOU with southern parcel owner Sotos Papaseraphim that provides for two appraisals of the property. Once complete, the town will negotiate for its purchase, Turner said.
Meeting attendee David Ross wondered why the town has to use eminent domain and demolish existing buildings to achieve the project. He said the buildings must have historical value and asked if the town really needs to build two new roads.
Selectboard chairman Darren Adams said eminent domain proceedings won’t be necessary, since, as Turner added, the property owners have been cooperative, and the town intends to pay them fair market value for their lots. They said the state initially preferred to only build the northern leg, but the parties negotiated to build the entire hourglass, which will stimulate economic development.
The buildings’ current tenants will operate until construction begins, Turner added.
Milton Artists’ Guild member Amy Cook said she appreciates Ross’ concern but thinks the hourglass creates an opportunity for “future history.”
“All kinds of celebrations and gatherings can happen there, and I think that’s going to have a really positive impact,” she said. “I’m very grateful to everybody who has worked so diligently to have that southern portion possible.”
Terry Richards asked if the green space will be publicly accessible, and if so, where people would park. Turner said the site includes stormwater design to accommodate future parking, but that wasn’t engineered as part of the project.
Tyler McRae worried about people congregating in an area surrounded by state and local highways. Adams reminded the crowd “we’re talking about a lawn right now. We don’t know what could happen there in the future, because that part hasn’t been decided.”
“You build it, and they will come. People will cross there, take shortcuts from school,” Tyler’s grandfather, George, of nearby McRae’s Towing said. It will work as long as drivers are mindful of pedestrians.
That prompted Bigelow, the engineer, to mention the intersection’s new traffic signals will have push-button crosswalks to increase safety.
Bigelow also discussed possible traffic impacts, including detours. He said only northbound traffic will be rerouted and only during daytime hours; there are no planned detours for southbound traffic.
Some in attendance worried about the project’s last phase, which would divert northbound traffic from Route 7 by detouring down Railroad Street to Main Street. They said it could be dangerous, particularly when tractor-trailers make a left-hand turn from Railroad to Main.
Planning commission chairwoman Lori Donna suggested VTrans consider other options.
Indeed, the exact details are still conceptual. Two people at the meeting, including selectboard member Brenda Steady, questioned the need for sidewalks on both sides of the road. Cutting some would save $50 per foot, which adds up in the literal long run, Bigelow said.