Survey says: Town sources opinions on Bay upgrades

By

Town officials are asking residents to weigh in on a host of potential upgrades in this area of Malletts Bay, including intersection, bike and pedestrian and stormwater improvements. (Photo courtesy of CCRPC)

Town officials are asking for public input as they weigh a series of options to reduce traffic congestion, improve bicycle and pedestrian safety and manage stormwater throughout Malletts Bay.

After a two-year scoping study, conducted with assistance from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission and a consulting team, Colchester’s technical services manager Karen Adams said the town has honed the list of potential projects in each of the three categories.

Now, she hopes a public survey will help them further winnow down the proposed alternatives.

“This is really the first step,” Adams said. “It will ultimately come down to what our community says they’re willing to invest in.”

Published earlier this week, the questionnaire presents residents and non-residents alike a series of choices in varying costs and magnitude at the Bayside Park intersection and along a portion of West Lakeshore Drive.

The latter option includes improving pavement markings and signage without changes to the roadway for $30,000, adding five-foot bike lanes on both sides of the road for $1.63 million or installing a 10-foot wide shared-use path on the south side of the road, pedestrians and cyclists separated from vehicular traffic by a strip of grass, for $5.16 million.

In addition to the range of price tags, each proposal comes with its own major impacts, Adams said. The 10-foot shared-use path would require significant right-of-way acquisitions, for example.

Survey-takers can also choose to endorse as many as three additional features built along the shared-use path, like a north side extension at road elevation with a dedicated scenic outlook and stairs down to the beach.

“We’re really just trying to get folks’ feedback on what they prefer, drawbacks that they see in each of them,” Adams said. “What have we not considered?”

The second section of the project moves its focus down the street to the four-way intersection at Bayside Park, where Adams said residents often report long wait times due to traffic congestion and an unsafe pedestrian and bicyclist set-up.

Three levels of improvements are again proposed, this time including a “level of service” marker with each. The measurement assigns a grade to intersections based on traffic flow, ranging from an “A” with 10 seconds of wait time per vehicle to an “F” with average wait times topping 80 seconds. The intersection is currently earning a “D” grade, the survey said.

New crossing signal times and an upgraded left turn lane, estimated to cost $440,000 and $520,000, respectively, would individually up the letter grade to a “C,” according to the survey.

Installing a one-lane roundabout at the four-way would bring the same middle grade, the survey shows, but come with a lofty $3.3 million bill. That option would provide better crossing areas for pedestrians, however, along with “enhanced sidewalks” with clear direction, Adams said.

The final option would undoubtedly offer the biggest alteration: turning East Lakeshore Drive into a dead end before the intersection, entirely removing one traffic source from the equation.

One version of the plan leaves it at that, encouraging travelers to access the area of town via Severance Road rather than Bay Road, costing about $960,000.

For $2 million more, an alternate option imagines directing East Lakeshore traffic down a road cutting through the town-owned Hazelett property, reconnecting at the existing Bayside/Laker Lane intersection. Both scenarios would improve the level of service to an “A,” according to the survey.

The scoping at Bayside has directly overlapped with the parks and recreation department’s conceptual designing. Town officials recently asked the selectboard whether they should plan around a pedestrian tunnel connecting lower and upper Bayside Park, a cornerstone feature of one design iteration that would significantly alter the current intersection.

At a work session on Monday, Francis said employees were moving forward under the assumption the tunnel would not be built in the near future but continued to make decisions that would leave the door open for its eventual installation.

Still, Adams knows the Hazelett connecting road would directly impact aspirations to develop the parcel out with park amenities. She’s been working closely with that department’s staff throughout the scoping study.

Adams joked the final portion of the study, stormwater management, is perhaps the least flashy. Still, it was the dedication to water quality in the area that prompted the closer look at transportation improvements in the first place.

“Bayside Park is a gem in Malletts Bay and Colchester. We are really upset about the fact that we have to continually close our beaches,” Adams said. “This whole project kind of started with a focus on water quality, and we’re going to carry that theme throughout whatever alternatives are chosen by the public.”

Five watersheds with 49 sub-basins have insufficient drainage infrastructure and “excessive loadings of stormwater volume, sediment and nutrients,” according to the survey.

Participants are asked to choose improvements that would either meet or exceed water quality standards in each of the five cases. In some instances, Adams said the costs are relatively similar. Others would require much larger budgets.

Adams will present the alternatives and the survey feedback collected to date at the Sept. 26 selectboard meeting. A second presentation will be held at the Oct. 10 meeting. The board’s endorsement will guide Adams through the upcoming budget season, she said.

Most importantly, Adams said a strong survey response will better position the town to receive grant funding, proving to investors that members of the public were actively involved and consulted along the way.

To take the survey, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MBIScoping. For more information about the project, visit http://bit.ly/2ffxmge.