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By Jennifer Stella
As with so many other projects in our community, the Waitsfield School's Safe Routes to School (SRTS) committee is 100 percent volunteer and I participate. Over the last few years, our SRTS team has been instrumental in identifying, communicating and finding solutions to the safety issues faced by our young families and children who wish to bike or walk to school. In our surveys of young families in Waitsfield, top safety concerns have consistently been speed of traffic along Route 100, volume of traffic along Route 100 and lack of sidewalks/paths. Our most recent survey was in 2012 and 60 families responded.
The Waitsfield SRTS team has worked to help the town secure funds to enhance safety for pedestrians and bicycles through the village for the last few years. SRTS-related grants include a $141,000 infrastructure grant in 2010 to design and implement safety improvements, which was spent on new radar feedback signs meant to slow traffic and designs for a crosswalk in front of the school and a $250,000 SRTS grant was accepted by the town in 2012 (100 percent reimbursed) to construct a new segment of sidewalk on the west side of Route 100 from Old County Road to Valley Players Theater. This money is listed in Waitsfield's capital budget as $125K to spend in 2013 and $125K to spend in 2014.
In 2013, the town applied for funding through VTrans Bike and Pedestrian Program to design and construct a sidewalk along VT 100 from Valley Players to Farr Lane. Our SRTS team sent a letter of support for this application, which was joined with strong letters of support from the chair of Waitsfield's Select Board, Mad River Path Association, MRV Health Center, Waitsfield's Planning Commission, Chamber of Commerce, MRV Planning District and Central VT Planning Commission. Selected from among 30 applications statewide, Waitsfield was offered 90 percent reimbursement of up to $369,500 to construct sidewalks on the west side of Route100.
On October 14, the Waitsfield Select Board reviewed whether to accept the $369,500 grant and sign the grant assessment for additional sidewalks. Several property owners adjacent to the proposed sidewalk and present at the meeting expressed concerns over engineering, budgeting and the impact that construction of the project might have on nearby properties. The select board heard vocal support in favor of sidewalks by the SRTS team and many of the same property owners.
In the end, the select board voted not to accept the $369,500 grant to build sidewalks from Valley Players to Farr Lane, but the town still needs (and landowners support) safer sidewalk and crosswalk connections in our village.
Perhaps we should consider doing it all on our own without external funding and associated design requirements. Do we have the budget and the will?
Stella lives in Waitsfield.