By MADELINE HUGHES
The town of Shelburne has received a $579,000 federal grant to build a path for pedestrians and bikers along Falls Road and Irish Hill Road.
The path will connect an existing sidewalk on Falls Road east to the gravel path along Irish Hill Road, which continues north to Thompson Road to Sycamore Drive. Connecting some of the neighborhoods surrounding the village’s rural district to the village core has been part of the town’s plan since 2007.
News of the grant came this week, pleasing the town officials who have applied unsuccessfully for grant funds twice before.
“I’m excited for the people who have been working for so long to get this project done,” said Dean Pierce, Shelburne’s director of planning and zoning. “It’s 2018 and we have finally locked in the funding. These types of projects take time to develop because competitions for outside funds are stiff.”
The idea for the path first came about in 2007 and a study to look into the details happened in 2012.
The focus of the path project is to “make it a safer pedestrian corridor,” said Kevin Boehmcke, chair of the bike and pedestrian paths committee. “We can begin to formalize a plan to put in a bridge, which we feel is an important step to take.”
Most of the $579,200 grant will pay for the engineering and construction of a pedestrian and bike bridge alongside the current bridge over the LaPlatte River that connects Falls Road and Irish Hill Road.
The 2012 study, which the grant application cited, said: “The need for the path can be seen in the gap between existing sidewalks on the east and west side of the LaPlatte River Falls Road bridge and desire [sic] lines and foot paths along the edges of Falls and Irish Hill Roads.”
The grant application also noted that for this popular stretch of road, “the volume of traffic is growing, having increased by 3 percent per year since 2009.”
Pierce said he also believes “more people are biking, but I don’t have the statistics to back that up.”
He noted that a key benefit of the proposed plan will be giving walkers and bikers their own space apart from motorists along the stretch of road with a hill and a narrow bridge.
The town in its grant application asked the state for $777,800. The original request included a fully paved path along Irish Hill Road and Thompson Road where there is currently a gravel path. Given the lower amount of the grant award, the project will only partially pave the path now, Pierce said.
The grant is federally funded through a competitive grant from the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program. Shelburne’s request was one of 31 requests the state reviewed, according to the award letter from program manager Jon Kaplan.
The town of Shelburne is expected to kick in 20 percent of the total project cost, which Pierce said is estimated at $145,000.
Town officials speculated that the timing for the grant approval was good this year. Some new sidewalk was built along Falls Road in 2017. Pierce added that there are plans coming together for a new residential subdivision along Falls Road across from Thomas Road. Although still in the preliminary phase, that project likely will call for additional sidewalks to be built.
With engineering still needed, Pierce said the path construction would likely begin around 2020.
Some have suggested at recent public meetings that the town’s share of the project funding might be better spent elsewhere. Pierce disagrees, pointing out that the town’s investment is a fraction of the cost of a project that’s been a priority for a decade.
Boehmcke agreed: “This isn’t going to be the last project, nor is this the first project. This is just the project that was the furthest along.”