By Phil Dodd
The eastern end of Barre Street in Montpelier has been a busy place in recent months. In addition to the construction of the new Caledonia Spirits distillery, there has been rerouting of railroad tracks and a ribbon of orange tape stretched along the existing tracks and an inactive railroad spur that extends along Old Country Club Road, where installation of a new bike-path-related culvert is getting started.
This activity is a sign that, after decades of talk and planning, preliminary work has begun on a nearly 2-mile section of bike path—part of it to be paved—that will run from the end of the current bike path at Granite Street to the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center ice rink on Gallison Hill Road.
Construction of the path—recently named by the city as the Siboinebi Path, based on an Abenaki term meaning “river water”—should be in full gear by next summer and completed by October 31, 2019, according to Tom McArdle, director of the Montpelier Public Works Department.
The bill for the project, including permitting, engineering, legal fees, payment for rights-of-ways, and construction costs of $4.7 million, adds up to $6.5 million. The federal government is paying $5.27 million toward the project, the state is paying $580,000, and the city is kicking in $650,000 via two approved bonds, McArdle said.
At its eastern terminus, the bike path will eventually connect to a new segment of the Cross Vermont Trail. At the western end of the new path, users will travel onto the existing bike path along Stone Cutters Way. But changes are coming to the route going west from there.
The official route will turn north from Stone Cutters Way to Barre Street, along the side of the recreation building, then head west along the north side of Barre Street (potentially eliminating as many as 17 parking spaces) before reaching the intersection of Barre and Main streets.
McArdle said the city will conduct a robust public process before any final decisions are made about the shared-use route along Barre Street. He noted that residents and businesses, as well as the Senior Center and the Recreation Department, may have concerns about the loss of parking.
Another piece of the puzzle is the busy intersection at Barre and Main streets, which the path will have to cross to reach the new bike/pedestrian bridge over the North Branch currently being built as part of the separate transit center project on Taylor Street.
The Barre and Main intersection, graded “F” by the state, is the subject of a study conducted for the city by the engineering firm of DuBois & King. McCardle said the final report will not be finished until later this winter, but a preliminary draft recommends “signalization,” with a traffic light at the intersection and lights to indicate when a train is coming.
If a traffic light is installed, the city may be able to make use of new video-based “adaptive technology” for that light and other nearby traffic signals that would monitor vehicle back ups and keep traffic moving, McArdle said.
Another possibility for the intersection that will appear in the report is a roundabout, but McArdle said that would be more complicated, especially with the train tracks that run across Main Street near the intersection.
The construction of the 2-mile stretch of bike path will mark a milestone for McCardle, who has been involved with planning the project since the city received a grant 20 years ago. At one time, the path was going to travel into Berlin and eventually to Barre, but that plan has been abandoned for now.
Among other challenges the city has encountered is working with the Washington County Railroad, owned by Vermont Rail System, according to McArdle. For example, an earlier alternative route that would have run by Sarducci’s was nixed due to limited space and the refusal of the railroad to reduce or change its right-of-way.
The city also had to do a complete redesign of the project when it became apparent the railroad was not willing to let the path travel along the inactive rail bed it owns, according to McArdle. The redesign, which will require building more retaining walls, is just as well, he said, as the railroad says it could reactivate that railroad bed at any time. The staked orange ribbons were erected to show the location of the right-of-way.
Two possible uses for the inactive rail bed that runs along the bottom of Sabin’s Pasture and out along Old Country Club Road are to lay down tracks to store railroad cars or turn it into the main route to Barre, which would avoid two bridges over the Winooski that the railroad currently uses, McArdle said.
The redesigned bike path will now travel along Old Country Club Road itself. McCardle said the city plans to build eight parking places near where a house now exists on the road, and then discontinue the road there (the path will continue beyond that). The house, the only one on the road, was purchased by the city in a foreclosure sale and will be torn down this winter, he said.
Next summer will also see the beginning of a three-year construction project to build a section of the Cross Vermont Trail from the end of the Siboinebi Path at the Civic Center to U-32 High School, back down to the Winooski River near the hydro dam, and then parallel to Route 2 toward East Montpelier, according to Greg Western, executive director of the Cross Vermont Trail Association (CVTA). It will be separated from the high-speed traffic of Route 2 to make it safer for children and others, he said, and steep portions will feature switchbacks to make the trail accessible to bike riders and pedestrians of all abilities.
The 5-foot wide path will be made of compacted crushed stone and is being managed for non-motorized uses, Western said. A federal grant of over $1 million will cover 80 percent of the project, and CVTA has raised $200,000—with another $50,000 to go—to cover the cost of a new bridge and other expenses, he said. Most of the work on the trail will be done by volunteers and youth conservation groups, which is why it will take three years to complete the work, Western said.
“When we are done, the bike path won’t end at the civic center, you’ll be able to keep going,” Western noted. Eventually, the plan is to use a patchwork of existing paths and roads to extend the Cross Vermont Trail across the entire state, from Lake Champlain to the Connecticut River. For more information, see crossvermont.org.