Kocher Drive pedestrian access project awarded funding

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BENNINGTON — A transportation access and safety project along Bennington's busy Kocher Drive corridor is moving ahead, boosted by recently-received construction funding.

The project, which includes a 1,600-foot bike/pedestrian path along Kocher Drive from Performance Drive to Northside Drive, a safe crossing of Route 7, and connections to other existing and planned sidewalks and bike paths, was awarded a $224,000 grant through the Vermont Bicycle-Pedestrian Program, according to the Bennington County Regional Commission's September 2019 newsletter.

The project was selected from among thirty-one applications statewide with funding requests totaling $13.6 million. The total cost of the project is approximately $950,000, including a combination of grants and local funding.

"It's been in the works for many years," said Mark Anders, regional planner/transportation program manager at BCRC, of the effort. The ideal would be to start the project next construction season, he said.

"It just depends on the bids," he said. "If we can get good bids. That's what it all comes down to."

Officials previously bid out the project, but the responses that came in earlier this year included cost estimates about 30 percent over available funds, so now that process must be repeated, Anders said.

"We're trying to value engineer the project so we can bring costs down," he said. "Looking for ways to save."

That value-engineering work is still ongoing, but officials did change a planned culvert extension of a stream that goes under Kocher Drive to a bridge, which should save some money, Anders said.

The project includes multiple sources of funding, including grants, planned assistance from the Vermont Department of Transportation and a federal earmark of $490,000. A small portion of the earmark paid for a scoping study in 2014; the rest will be used for the project itself, Anders said.

A scoping study, which is required for federally-funded projects, looks at ways to address the issue in question.

The scoping study identified this particular project as the best option to address safety concerns regarding pedestrian access on Kocher Drive, Anders said.

"A lot of kids from the middle school run across this huge intersection," Anders said of the intersection of Kocher Drive and Route 7. "It's incredibly dangerous. The problem is still there. [It] hasn't been fixed."

The project includes a planned crosswalk, pedestrian refuge island, pedestrian signals and the elimination of a right-hand turn lane southbound on Route 7, Anders said.

"We're hoping to make it safer," he said. Many pedestrians walk along Kocher Drive, including students, and the BCRC has received complaints about safety on the road.

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"It's been an issue for years," he said. Kocher Drive was not designed with pedestrian access in mind, he said.

"That's how roads were designed for years, unfortunately," he said. "People didn't think about pedestrians."

The BCRC has worked closely with the town, state, and project consultants to plan the

improvements and manage the complex project, originally identified in the regional transportation plan as critical because of the concentration of housing, retail services, schools, and public parks in an area that almost completely lacks facilities to safely accommodate the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists, according to the newsletter.

The town is also undertaking part of the project, building an additional 1,100 feet of path at its own expense from Performance Drive to East Road, where it will connect to an existing bike/pedestrian path, according to an application for additional funding for the project.

This effort, which is currently underway, is being paid for by town funds. It is separate from the federally-funded portion of the project.

The town is also adding a pathway along Performance Drive that will connect to Willow Park, said Dan Monks, planning director and assistant town manager.

"We thought it would make sense," he said.

The town budgets money every year for such pedestrian and bike path projects, he said.

Monks identified the project as primarily a safety issue, pointing out its lack the safety for bicyclists and pedestrians in the area.

But walkability is also an economic development tool, he said.

"Walkability is a big draw for folks," he said. People want to be able to get around "without getting in their car all the time," he said.

The Kocher Drive project is one of several path/sidewalk projects the town is working on, including a trail that will connect Bennington College to downtown, and another path by Bennington Station, Monks said.

The town is also installing a bike path/bike lane on Benmont Avenue, he said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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