Barre Mayor suggests that voters decide truck bypass idea
BARRE — The City Council won’t necessarily have the last word when it comes to the fate of a downtown truck bypass. Granite City voters might.
After learning that the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee agreed earlier this week to recommend that the council abandon a Summer Street truck route that has been put to the test over the past 30 days, Lauzon floated the idea of asking voters to decide the controversial question.
According to Lauzon, that could mean extending the soon-to-expire trial period for a truck route that has been roundly criticized by several people who live, work and own property on Summer Street through the city’s Town Meeting Day elections next March. Or, he said, the council could elect to allow trucks back on North Main Street for now while still pursuing a public vote that might lead to the truck route’s reinstatement next year.
“That’s the council’s call,” he said.
Lauzon said he will wait to receive the committee’s recommendation before making any decisions himself. However, he admitted, he is intrigued by the prospect of letting voters speak on the issue.
“At the end of the day … the people who live on Summer Street will focus on all of the reasons why we shouldn’t do it and the people who are on (North) Main Street will focus on all the reasons that we should,” he said. “I’m more interested in hearing from the entire community … I would be thrilled to let the community decide this one for us.”
That idea isn’t without support on the seven-member City Council.
Though members differed on what should happen with the truck route in the interim, a clear majority said they would not object to involving voters in the decision-making process.
Councilor Paul Poirier said his only issue is what happens to the truck route between now and March.
According to Poirier, he will back the recommendation of the committee that took the time to take the testimony on both sides of the issue and to seriously evaluate whether designating Summer Street as a truck route made sense.
“That’s what I’m going to support,” he said of the committee’s soon-to-be-delivered recommendation.
However, while Poirier said he believed North Main Street should be immediately reopened to trucks, he left the door wide open to putting the question on the city’s Town Meeting Day ballot.
“That would at least give voters the opportunity to weigh in on the issue,” he said. “I’m not against that. I just think we should return the trucks to North Main Street now.”
Councilor Lucas Herring said he wasn’t prepared to discuss extending the detour through the winter months without first reviewing the committee’s recommendation, but said he could easily be persuaded to go along with a Town Meeting Day vote on a clearly “contentious” question.
“I’m not opposed to that,” he said.
Councilor Michael Boutin is.
Boutin, who voted against even testing the truck route last month, said he was pleased with the committee’s conclusion that it should be abandoned, and surprised and troubled by the suggestion it be put to a public vote.
Councilor Anita Chadderton, who said from the start that she believed 30 days wasn’t adequate to truly test the truck route, said extending the trial period through winter months would be useful.
According to Chadderton, the extended trial period could serve as an informative run-up to a March vote that she said would be the best measure of where the community stands on the truck route.
“I like that idea,” she said.
Smith agreed that a public vote would be a fair way to resolve what he views as an honest, but predictable, difference of opinion over the value of banning big rigs from the city’s newly rebuilt central business district.
“I can see both sides,” he said.
Local merchants on North Main Street have widely embraced an idea that they believe will make for a more pedestrian-friendly and inviting downtown, while those who live along the truck route have objected to what they view as a tortured downtown bypass that raises both safety concerns and quality of life issues for their neighborhood, from truck noise to exhaust fumes.
The latter group dominated discussion during a hearing process that wrapped up this week when the committee agreed to recommend the council allow large trucks back on a road that members concluded was designed and built to handle the pounding from that sort of traffic.
The council is expected to receive the committee’s written recommendation next week and will decide how to proceed on Nov. 27.
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