BARRE — Discussed for decades, plans to upgrade the intersection where Quarry Hill converges with the strip of Route 14 that doubles as South Main Street in Barre could benefit from the infusion of $4.75 million in federal funds.
The project — one of eight “member designated projects” proposed by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., earlier this year — is one of four that survived a subsequent committee review and is included in the federal surface transportation reauthorization bill that was just introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, Mayor Lucas Herring said Tuesday.
That isn’t a guarantee the Barre project will be funded, but it has a far better chance than half the projects for which Welch sought funding now that a decade-old ban on congressional “earmarks” has been lifted.
Two bridge replacement projects — one on Route 7 in Pittsford and the other on Route 100 in Readsboro — didn’t make the cut. Neither did a $4.4 million transit and operations maintenance facility the state Agency of Transportation hopes to build in central Vermont, or Green Mountain Transit Authority’s proposed $2 million upgrade to its Burlington facility.
The Quarry Hill project is still in the game and if it’s still in the bill that passes both houses and is signed into law the $4.75 million would be locked in.
That can’t hurt, according to City Manager Steve Mackenzie, who, like Herring, received word, from Welch’s office the Quarry Hill project is in the bill that will be considered by congress. How much and who it helps is less clear, he said.
“My perception is, it doesn’t mean anything for Barre,” Mackenzie said, who likened it to the decades-old earmark that eventually financed the bulk of the reconstruction of North Main Street in the city’s historic downtown.
Though federal funding paid for most of the work, the city still had a local share and was solely responsible for utility work that was completed at the same time.
Mackenzie said it appears those same rules will apply and if there is an advantage to securing the funding it might help prevent further delays.
That’s a big “might.”
A federal earmark was in place for the “Big Dig” long before the city executed the first of the agreements with the state involving that project in 1999 and the work didn’t actually begin until 2011.
Mackenzie remembers those initial agreements because the city had to amend them two years ago to absorb $900,000 in unanticipated utility expenses associated with a project that was completed in 2012.
The Quarry Hill intersection upgrade isn’t quite that old, but it had been discussed long before the City Council endorsed a $2.8 million solution in 2002, or then-Mayor Thomas Lauzon threatened to make Quarry Street — the city’s section of Quarry Hill — one-way for trucks in 2012.
By then preliminary plans for the project included a number of tasks including widening the city’s portion of the road, installing a traffic signal at the intersection and addressing chronic storm water problems.
Permitting for the project was completed in 2016 and the first phase of the work, which involved acquiring and demolishing five residential buildings to pave the way for the upgrade was completed a couple of years ago.
The Quarry Hill project is currently in the right of way phase and Mackenzie said he doubted securing the earmark would accelerate a schedule that currently contemplates putting the year-long project out to bid in the spring of 2023, starting work that fall and wrapping up in 2024.
However, Mackenzie said having the designated money should prevent the project from sliding — assuming the right of way process doesn’t get complicated.
“It’s an added incentive to make the project go,” he said.
According to Mackenzie, the project as designed would extend the three-lane concept — one lane up and two lanes down — that exists on Quarry Hill Road in Barre Town to the South Main Street intersection. That means widening Quarry Street to include a “truck lane,” while installing a traffic signal at the reconfigured intersection.
An even $20 million of the nearly $41 million in transportation earmarks proposed by Welch were included in the bill.
The $7.6 million rehabilitation of a bridge on Route 4 in Hartland is the most expensive of Welch’s surviving earmarks. The bill, as introduced, also contains $5.4 million in funding for the “Crescent Connector Project,” and $2.25 million for Burlington’s “Railyard Enterprise Project.” The $4.75 Welch has asked by designated for the Quarry Hill project pushes the total to $20 million.