After hearing from the public at a well-attended public hearing this week, Waitsfield Select Board will hold a second public hearing on whether to rebuild (and potentially improve) or shim Joslin Hill Road.
That second public meeting will have to occur in January because if the town is going to take action on the road in 2015, the town budget for the town report needs to be completed by the end of the month. Voters will need to approve the funds at Town Meeting next March.
At issue is whether the town will undertake a complete rebuild of the road or do a temporary fix called a shim which would last three to five years. Town residents also have concerns about pedestrian and cyclist safety on the road while some residents of the road are concerned that fixing safety issues would result in the loss of stone walls and trees.
The board, at its December 15 hearing, heard from town resident Mike Kingsbury who told the board that he had measured the road and found it to vary from 22 to 24 feet in width with the narrowest point coinciding with the top of a steep hill. To widen the narrowest part to 24 feet would require moving two utility poles at a cost of at least $24,000. Road foreman Charlie Goodman suggested that the road be rebuilt at 24 feet wide.
Kingsbury, who is retired from Kingsbury Construction, an excavating and earth moving company in Waitsfield, estimated that the cost to completely rebuild the road would be between $750,000 and $800,000. Previous estimates of projected costs have ranged from $1 million to $2 million.
The cost of shimming the road is $75,000.
Taxpayers who are concerned about the safety of people walking and biking on the road have asked the select board to look into whether the shoulder on either side of the road could be widened, although some people at this week's meeting referred to the safety concerns as a request for bike lanes on both sides of the road.
"It doesn't look to me like we can provide a footpath beside all our roads and still keep the neighbors happy without digging up stone walls and trees," said board chair Paul Hartshorn.
"We're talking $750,000 to $800,000. That's a lot of money for taxpayers. Can we get by the way it is for another year and get some of our other big projects paid for and let you guys plan this project?" Kingsbury asked.
Board member Logan Cooke pointed out that when towns bond for big projects such as the upcoming town office and work on Bridge Street they bond for 15 to 20 years so the financial impact of multiple projects is already spread out.
"Pushing this off one or two or five years with a shim, you're only pushing off a few bond payments. We either do it now or pay again in five years," Cooke said.
Board member Sal Spinosa asked Kingsbury for his estimate on the life of a shim.
"It will get you four to five years, but in the meantime the road will deteriorate more and then the fix that is going to cost $750,000 to $800,000 might cost you $1.2 million in five years," Kingsbury said.
Town administrator Valerie Capels told the group that a 15-year bond for $900,000 would be repaid at $83,000 per year by taxpayers.
Those present at the meeting expressed concerns that improving the road would make people drive faster and would result in a less safe road. Others suggested that the speed limit be lowered to 25 mph and that the speed limit be enforced. Others said they seldom saw cyclists on the road and questioned the need for improving safety on the road.
Christine Sullivan, a member of the Waitsfield School Board, said that roads aren't just for cars, they are for all users, including bikers and walkers.
"The road needs to be fixed. We're trying to figure out what we do when we fix this road and this all-or-nothing way of looking at it isn't productive. We can improve those parts of the road that are the most dangerous for bikers and walkers. I'm not talking about bike lanes or sidewalks. A few inches of good space on the big curve would improve visibility for walkers and drivers," said town resident Anne Bordonaro.
Board member Scott Kingsbury suggested that the town narrow the travel lanes and set off a portion of the lane with a dotted line with that space being shared with bikes. He also spoke out against shimming the road as a waste of money, as did board member Chris Pierson.
Town resident Nicholas Harmon asked that the board address the safety issues it could, whether the long-term solution or the temporary solution is undertaken.
Another resident, Phil Huffman, said that the goal should be to get the road fixed for whoever is using it.
"We really have to address the safety considerations for those who are not in vehicles. It's not just about cars. Nobody wants to see it turned into a big highway. We want to keep the character of the road. We're talking about a huge investment sometime soon so let's make sure we're thinking through this as carefully as we can," Huffman said.
He also urged the board to do more public outreach on the issue, rather than "one hour on one Monday night."
Marie Leotta, a town resident, reported how she'd heard one woman had to push her baby jogger almost into the ditch while running on Joslin Hill to avoid getting hit by a car.
"It's all about if I want to use the road, I should be able to use the road regardless of the cost, expense or what it's intended for, what have you. But there's personal safety and personal accountability here. If someone is walking their baby in a carriage on that road, there's something wrong with them," Pierson said to Leotta.
"Schools are trying to encourage kids to ride bikes and walk again because we have epidemics of obesity in this country. We're building a road that's going to survive 30 years. It should support the lifestyle we're teaching kids to live. There were many times I needed to walk into town on that road. For a year my family could only afford one car. I should be able to walk into town. I pay taxes in this town. It's my road too. It's not just for people who have cars. It's not just for people who have three cars. It's for people who want to walk to be healthy or because they have to walk. You're talking about it like it's a luxury. I want a road that is safe for all the current users," Bordonaro responded.