Town lobbies for federal stimulus (Essex Reporter)

By Jason Starr
The Essex Reporter

Jockeying for federal stimulus money is heating up in Vermont, and Essex Public Works Director Dennis Lutz has the town's projects boiled down and prioritized.

On Friday, Lutz attended a Vermont Agency of Natural Resources meeting with other municipal officials to discuss federal stormwater funding. He's been in continual talks with the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTRANS) on funding of pavement and intersection work.

Essex's list of eight projects with federal stimulus potential total $2.5 million in estimated costs.

VTRANS already has announced its plan to use stimulus money to pave Route 15 from Winooski to Essex Junction this year. Lutz is trying to work in a simultaneous stimulus-funded reworking of the Susie Wilson Road-Route 15 intersection.

The intersection was the subject of debate during the new Lowe's home improvement store's permitting process. The company contributed money for eventual upgrades at the intersection as well as additional signals and turning lanes on Susie Wilson Road.

Two proposals for the intersection were discussed: adding an additional right-turning lane from Susie Wilson to Route 15 or having the center lane alternate between right and left depending on the time of day.

VTRANS issued a permit for the additional right-turn lane option March 4. But the alternating-lane idea is still on the table for the future.

"Susie Wilson is not a static corridor," Lutz said. "In another year or two, something will have to be done out there again."

The permitted plan reverses the current configuration, where two lanes are dedicated to a left-hand turn from Susie Wilson onto Route 15 and one to a right-hand turn.

Under the plan, the center lane will change to a right-turn lane, creating two right-turn lanes and one left.

The curb radius will be widened to accommodate two right-turning lanes.

"There are fewer people turning left and there's a greater demand for traffic in the morning turning right," Lutz said, noting that there are fewer employees at IBM than in previous years.

In terms of level of service, the right turning lane currently rates an "F" during the morning rush hour, he added.

If stimulus money is obtained, money contributed by Lowe's would go to future improvements of the corridor. If no stimulus money is obtained, the Lowe's contribution would be used to help create the new right-turn lane.

Environmental Protection Agency and Act 250 exemptions have been requested for the project.

A second Essex project Lutz is pushing for stimulus funding is an upgrade to the Alder Brook pump station. The recent Town Meeting Day vote by Essex residents to authorize $600,000 worth of debt to fund the project bodes well for obtaining federal stimulus help, according to Lutz.

During Friday's meeting with the Agency of Natural Resources, Lutz lobbied for the project to go on the agency's wastewater priority list, which will determine federal stimulus funding.

Also on the town's federal stimulus wish list:

•Route 15 path from Sunset Drive to Town Center

•Repaving of Old Stage Road

•Repaving of Sand Hill Road

•Stormwater improvements near Sydney Drive, Pinewood Drive and Valleyview Drive

•Stormwater improvements at Town Center.