Montpelier’s officials should reassess spending priorities. Increasingly, widely discussed concerns among Montpelier’s citizens and visitors are questioning the prudence of spending millions on an (extravagant) bike path and bridge, as well as other spending priorities, when there are potholed roads, unsafe sidewalk conditions, public health and safety problems (like sewer gas emanating from downtown storm drains and inadequate homeless services), upside-down planning and ongoing litigation over the proposed garage.
Really? $200,000 for “Wayfinding” signs; millions of dollars for the new bike path and pedestrian bridge; millions of dollars on a “multi-modal” transit center with no rail platform; tens of thousands for a Downtown Master Plan with its base assumptions in limbo (the uncertain garage prospects).
There is obvious neglected maintenance. Paving conditions are damaging everyone’s automobile suspensions; there is failed drainage at most downtown crosswalks, resulting in freezing puddles in crosswalks in winter. The recent paving at State and Main still fails to drain into the adjacent storm drain.
Clean and safe streets and sidewalks? There are trip hazards, when beveled grinding at mismatched levels, creates a sloped trip hazard.
There are missing sections of curb and haphazard curbstones, removed for water main repair on East State yet not restored months later?
Street sweeping was skipped for three weeks and leaves trail of mounded dust/dirt in its trail. Who is supposed to clean up the trash, glass, vomit and feces frequently found on our downtown sidewalks? “Not my job” is a frequent refrain. (A quiet rechargeable industrial-scale electric vacuum cleaner for sidewalks, as proposed months ago, was ignored, delayed, postponed as if a farmers’ market with toxic sand grit in cheese samples was not even a problem worth addressing.)
There is continued dumping of untreated human waste into our rivers when a heavy rain overloads the treatment plant capacity. That makes for unswimmable waters — an embarrassment and cause to warn all tourists who imagine all Vermont’s rivers to be swimmable.
The revolting stench of sewer gas arising from storm drains on East State and Main immediately adjacent to La Brioche, Skinny Pancake and Bluestone Pizza is a surefire appetite killer.
Public safety and broadband fiber initiatives — CVPSA and CVFiber — have fallen off the map even as the city council adopted a vague “work together” wish and a prayer, soon followed by a CVPSA meeting where the vote to create a plan was killed by a vote in favor of squandering the remaining $50,000 instead on separate police department wish lists. Barre City and Montpelier are at risk of losing more than $200,000 in addition to funds already invested toward regional public safety communications efforts.
And there are what I see as missed opportunities.
Despite the fact that the new parking lot for 18 cars will soon be completed behind the Savoy/Drawing Board, plans for solving the need for Aubuchon delivery trucks currently parking in Main Street and unloading in traffic with a forklift, across blind sidewalks, has been indefinitely postponed. Rear entrance loading ramps for truck/trailer access are within reach by integrating North Branch Parking Lot across Aubuchon’s rear driveway and exiting through the North Branch lot behind Positive Pie. (This requires only a simple plan, and the city forfeiting four spaces to provide a turning radius for the tractor-trailers to exit alongside the new Nutty Steph’s, former Pocket park alley. This would also require city cooperation with Aubuchon to accomplish diligent snow removal from all three properties.)
The new parking lot also illustrates an enormous missed opportunity to install electric vehicle charging stations, where travelers would be able to walk, shop and dine around Montpelier while their vehicle charges. That seems like a no-brainer to attract tourists en route to a destination without requiring a $12 million to $18 million parking garage and its most uncertain prospects.
Being responsive to the immediate needs of both tourists and the homeless would necessitate availability of public restrooms. Why not combine public restrooms, showers and laundry for the less fortunate, with a Downtown Free WiFi Zone for residents and tourists?
Prudence would argue that we also take an opportunity, while the garage appeals move through the courts, to complete an overdue comprehensive traffic study including proposed and anticipated construction impacts.
This delay should also provide an opportunity to complete a rail study and to explore and quantify the impacts of satellite parking alternatives, like the need for less downtown parking altogether.
Much smaller and immediately justifiable expenses might also include a central web-visible log of all public records requests and correspondence with city manager’s office.
Accountability. Accountability. Accountability.
Stephen Whitaker lives in Montpelier.