Bennington's Benmont Avenue could get a makeover


BENNINGTON — The proposed addition of bike lanes, sidewalks, and other improvements to Benmont Avenue got a warm reception at a public hearing on Wednesday.

Consultants for the town said the changes would increase safety on the well-travelled road where speed is an issue.

Conceptual designs call for installing a bike lane down a one-mile stretch of Benmont Avenue, from Main Street to the area of Hunt Street and the Benmont Avenue bridge. Sidewalks would be installed from where they end at the intersection with County Street. The plan also takes future projects, like the Ninja Trail and Kocher Drive multi-use rail trail, into consideration.

Jason Dolmetsch, with MSK Engineering & Design, said a team surveyed existing conditions last week.

Thomas R. Tavella, principal with Alta Planning & Design, said his team spent part of Wednesday walking the road and looking for ways to make improvements. Then, on tracing paper, they made rough sketches to include a more narrow vehicle travel lane, as well as a bike lane and in parts, sidewalks.

"It's our first step, and now we need to refine it," Tavella said.

A project would be done over the course of several years, according to Bennington Planning Director Dan Monks.

"We don't expect to build this all at once," Monks said. Parts of the project would be done in phases. And savings could be had if the town takes on pieces in-house, like the first leg of the Ninja Trail: The town's highway department could build sidewalks, center islands and lay pavement.

Planners will have to bring a project proposal, including a phasing plan and a budget with funding sources, to the Select Board for approval.

The hearing follows an active transportation corridor study completed in 2012. That study, completed by the Bennington County Regional Commission, identified problems and solutions with the road.

"I think it would be great for the town and the mill," said Jon Goodrich, owner of the Vermont Mill Properties. People walk and ride bikes along the curb cut in front of the mill, but not comfortably, he said.

"I think anything that gets people to walk or bike from one place to another is phenomenal," said Kathy O'Reilly, who works for the Bennington office of the state Department of Health.

O'Reilly said a similar project in her hometown of Burlington had much success: A busy section of North Avenue was reduced from four vehicle lanes to two, and a new bike lane was installed.

"It's slowed everything down tremendously," she said.

Goodrich asked that planners "keep in touch" with property owners on the corridor on updates about the project.

Monks said during the hearing that the town will be in touch with property owners, notably, those with large curb-cuts.

The conceptual drawings are expected to soon be posted on the town website.

— Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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