Planners mull stop sites for Bennington-Rensselaer bus link

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BENNINGTON — Before a new bus service linking the region to rail service in New York's Capital Region can start, local officials must choose sites where riders will be picked-up and dropped off.

The state-supported bus-to-rail service, which will link the Bennington-Manchester area to the Amtrak rail station in Rensselaer, N.Y., is set to begin in the summer or fall.

In Manchester, the two stops have been selected, according to Mark Anders, regional planner and transportation program manager with the Bennington County Regional Commission . But the stop for Bennington has not been selected.

"There isn't a very obvious place," Anders said during the town's Planning Commission meeting on Monday. "Each one has pros and cons."

In the Northshire, the route will include a stop in Manchester Village, either at the Equinox Hotel or old Courthouse, and then a second stop at the old Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce building.

BCRC representatives came to Planning Commission members to seek input about where to site the stop. The Agency of Transportation is on track to issue a request for proposals for prospective service providers next month, according to Anders, who said he hoped a site would be selected by then.

Members mulled several proposed locations that would be a stop on the route, including the Bennington Welcome Center, the Bennington Station on Depot Street and the Green Mountain Community Network (GMCN) stop on Main Street. No action was ultimately taken. The idea will be brought up again at the next meeting.

The push behind getting more accessible transportation from Manchester to Albany stems from the 2015 Legislative session: Section 11 of Act 40 directed VTrans to study options for initiating and operating an Albany-Bennington-Manchester bus service. A year prior, a study by VTrans explored starting rail service with stops in North Bennington, Manchester, and Rutland, but that was deemed too costly.

According to Anders, Bennington planners had requested VTrans include them in the decision-making regarding stop locations. A series of informational sessions were held this winter in Bennington and Manchester.

Members debated the merits of several sites. The Welcome Center was eyed for its vast amount of parking. But members debated the need for riders to rent a car. Other sites explored were the Bennington Chamber of Commerce building, Paradise Inn, and Jensen's Restaurant.

The sites were preliminary and BCRC representatives noted nothing is set in stone.

The initial proposal calls for the shuttle to make two runs each day, from Manchester to Bennington to Rensselaer, and back again. At Rensselaer, 12 Amtrak trains depart from that station each day to make the two-and-a-half-hour trip to New York City.

In Bennington, the bus would depart the stop at 8:10 a.m. and 3:50 p.m., and arrive in town at 12:35 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Riders will be able to book on Amtrak's online reservation system.

Bennington College has already agreed to provide a shuttle between the rail-bus stop and the college, according to Anders.

Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.

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