By Adam Federman, VTDigger.org
PITTSFORD—Top state transportation officials got a walking tour of the town’s sidewalks Friday, Aug. 12, to illustrate local frustration as the community awaits the long-delayed Route 7 upgrade. The Select Board and Rutland County legislators got together with Transportation Secretary Chris Cole and Highway Director Kevin Marshia to discuss infrastructure issues related to the upgrade. In stifling heat and humidity, Town Manager John Haverstock led Cole and Marshia on a walking tour.
The town is in a bit of a bind: it needs to repair its sidewalks now, but construction on Route 7 in Pittsford and resurfacing of the sidewalks are not scheduled to start until 2028.
Some stretches are in such poor condition that there is no longer a clear demarcation between the sidewalk and Route 7. In front of Al Maxham’s property on the southern end of town, the sidewalk has been worn away by cars passing on what was once the narrow shoulder of the highway. Other portions have been damaged by long winters and years of deferred maintenance.
Last year, Pittsford Fire Chief Tom Hooker said, a 3-foot metal rod was found sticking out of one of the sidewalks. Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, who lives in Pittsford, said her son once had to scurry over a guardrail while walking home from school after a car jumped the curb. The local elementary school sits right on Route 7 in the middle of town.
Hooker said the stretch of Route 7 from Brandon to Pittsford is one of the worst in the state. “Over the years, I can’t count how many fatalities there have been,” said Hooker.
The condition of the sidewalks is tied to the fate of Route 7. An upgrade that has been discussed since at least the late 1990s would include completely rebuilding the town’s sidewalks. But the Route 7 improvements have been delayed for so long that the town feels it can no longer wait to address related infrastructure issues.
“I’m frustrated with the state of Vermont as far as the highway system is concerned,” said Hooker, who also is chairman of the Select Board. “Rutland County seems to be the last one to get anything done.”
Cole said the State has to balance the needs of individual towns with budgetary constraints. Pittsford needs to come up with a reasonable short-term solution to get to 2028, when the sidewalks will be rebuilt, he said.
According to Cole, the Town can seek grant funding from the State to repair some of its sidewalks or it can reclassify the stretch of Route 7 through Pittsford as a Class 1 town highway, which would give the Town greater control over some maintenance such as plowing and minor repairs to pavement. Class 1 town highways are part of the state highway system but are managed by a municipality. According to a white paper published by the Transportation Agency in February, “Many municipalities around Vermont have been discussing the option of reclassifying state highways through their villages” as Class 1 town highways. Reclassification gives towns greater autonomy over issues like speed limits or crosswalk markings and allows towns to bypass the state permit process for right-of-way work.
In the white paper, most town officials interviewed said they were happy with the Class 1 system “and would not seek to give the road back” to the agency. The small percentage that said they would prefer to return control of the road to the State cited inadequate funding as the primary reason. Those towns “tended to be in economically stressed areas.”
Haverstock said he was cautiously optimistic that Pittsford would find a way to fix its sidewalks before 2028. He said the town was looking into grant programs, including a newly created state matching fund, and the possibility of taking over maintenance of its portion of Route 7.
However, towns are already responsible for sidewalk maintenance, so it’s unclear if switching to a Class 1 town highway would solve Pittsford’s problems. At a minimum, he said, if they were taking care of the highway in town they’d be more mindful of the curbs, many of which have been damaged by snowplow blades.
Photo by Adam Federman/VTDigger
Transportation Secretary Chris Cole (L) and Highway Director Kevin Marshia (R) flank Sens. Brian Collamore and Peg Flory during a walking tour of Pittsford’s sidewalks. In back are Reps. Steve Carr and Butch Shaw.