According to Shea, Readsboro’s sidewalks are in dire need of an upgrade. The last time the town underwent construction of new sidewalks was in 1961, and their current condition is cracked, bumpy, and dangerous. “They’re in terrible condition,” said Shea. “If you take a look from the perspective of people with disabilities, they’d have a difficult time navigating these sidewalks.”
New sidewalks would cover both sides of Main Street, School Street, and Tunnel Street from Route 100 to the Readsboro apartments, where there are a number of elderly and handicapped residents. Shea says that the sidewalks have been well maintained over the last half-century, but repairs have typically been done on an ad-hoc basis. “The fact is they’re just outdated. They don’t have proper curb cuts, and there’s no level path for walking,” said Shea.
The grant opportunity, which is offered to towns annually by the Vermont Department of Transportation (VTrans), received positive feedback from the Readsboro Selectboard, as well as the public. The town was required to hold one public meeting in accordance with the application, but held three instead, to gather as much public input as possible. According to Shea, turnout was strong at the meetings with residents expressing their safety concerns, as well as the aesthetic value of new sidewalks. The town’s planning commission also showed up to voice their support for the project.
Upgrading and installing new sidewalks will cost approximately $401,000, but the town will only be required to pick up 20% of the bill, approximately $80,000. Shea says that the grant is not a “gimme,” however, as residents will have to vote at Town Meeting on whether to make the funds a line item in the town budget. This is also one of the stipulations of approval for the grant, according to Shea.
VTrans will rank applications in November and December, and funding announcements will be made in January. Once (and if) the town approves its portion of the funding at Town Meeting, the plan can be signed into action. In the meantime, the town will also have to gather preliminary bids for engineering. The new sidewalks will add to Readsboro’s ongoing economic development as well, according to Shea, and will make events that line Main Street, such as the Harvest Festival, safer.
The new sidewalks will connect with a plan already in the works to create a safer walk to school for students of Readsboro Central School. Through the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (Map-21) the federal highway administration allotted funds for a “safer routes to school program.” Readsboro is taking advantage of the program, extending the sidewalk at Phelps Lane farther into Route 100, to slow down traffic and create a safer place to cross.
“The whole point is having a village where you don’t have to drive,” said Shea. “People would sometimes prefer that, and this program encourages walking villages. If you have these sidewalks, people can choose to walk or ride their bike to the store or the library or school.”
In other infrastructure news in town, repairs to Bridge 31 on Branch Hill Road have been completed, while work on Bridge 32, on Tunnel Street, continues on track. Eli Erwin, supervisor for the town’s water project, reported to the selectboard that piping has been installed past the Readsboro Inn and is close to being finished. The town is hoping to extend the scope of the project should there be money left over from the original budget, but Erwin told the board that any additional installations would need to be performed in the spring.