PLAINFIELD — The traffic lights have been set up for the installation of a pedestrian bridge on Main Street, but the fire chief isn’t happy his department didn’t get a heads up and the Select Board isn’t quite sure when construction will begin.
The plan is to install sidewalk on a small portion of Mill Street in the village where it connects with Main Street and continues up Main Street to the bridge that crosses the Winooski River. The bridge will be widened to allow for a pedestrians walkway. Officials have said this plan will make walking in that part of town easier and safer.
Temporary traffic lights were installed around the bridge earlier this week. The lights are needed because the bridge will be reduced to one lane while construction is underway. The project is expected to take three months to complete.
At the Select Board’s regular meeting Tuesday night, Fire Chief Greg Light spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to say he and other members of the fire department were disappointed they were not made aware of the traffic lights before they were installed.
Light said he received multiple calls from firefighters concerned about the lights.
He said some of his firefighters don’t have red lights to affix to their vehicles, which help them get through traffic when responding to a fire. That’s not much of an issue when there is only a blinking yellow light at the intersection of Route 2 and Main Street, as there has been historically, but it is when there are traffic lights that will halt traffic.
“If there is an emergency call and the traffic lights are red and you don’t have a red light, how are they supposed to get down into the the lower village and get through all that traffic?” he asked.
The fire department in East Montpelier provides ambulance coverage for Plainfield. Light said he contacted that department and was told they weren’t aware of the traffic lights either.
Board member Tammy Farnham apologized for the oversight, saying this was not her area of expertise. Farnham said there have been public meetings about traffic control for the project and there is information about the project, including a traffic control map, on the town’s website.
Board member Sasha Thayer also apologized to the fire chief.
There had been conversations when the project was in the development phase about closing the bridge down entirely so the work could be completed faster. Light had objected to that, stating emergency responders needed to have access to the lower village from Route 2. The project was altered to allow for one lane to be open on the bridge at all times.
Thayer said it wasn’t an excuse, but the board’s focus had been on keeping that lane open.
She said, “And we didn’t actually take into account ‘and what else do we really need to be thinking about?’”
Light said he needed to know who to contact in order to allow emergency responders through the intersection when necessary. Farnham said VHB, an engineering firm based in South Burlington, is responsible for the project’s management. She said she will get in touch with them to see who the fire chief should be in touch with.
The project was part of the meeting’s agenda. When it was brought up again later in the meeting, resident Paula Emery wanted to know when construction would begin.
She said multiple parking spaces on Mill Street have been blocked off by a set of traffic lights and other equipment. Emery said those parking spaces haven’t been accessible for a week and could be used by residents if the project isn’t going to get underway soon. She said the lack of parking has been an issue for businesses in the lower village and the town’s farmers’ market.
Farnham said the bridge was supposed to be reduced to one lane Tuesday, but it didn’t appear that was the case. She said the state Agency of Transportation needs to approve the traffic control plan for the project. If that hadn’t been done yet, she said that’s likely why construction hasn’t begun.
Farnham said the hope was to get a response from the state by last Friday, but she hadn’t been told if the plan had been approved as of Tuesday night.