by Michael Bielawski
PLAINFIELD – The select board had its hands full with infrastructure projects during the year 2020, including the infamous flashing light intersection at the center of town which may finally see a large-scale overhaul in the coming years. There are also two bridges which may need work.
The awkward intersection where Route 2 and High Street connect dates back to the horse and buggy days and it has been a hot discussion matter at recent meetings.
“We have literally dealt with this, in terms of updates, for virtually every meeting for months now,” Select board chair Sasha Thayer said by phone.
The two bridge projects in the village include the widening of the walking section of the High Street bridge, which is just down the hill from the intersection project and the town hopes the two projects can be coordinated to some degree. Another bridge on the other side of the village center on Brook Street needs an overhaul, as well, as it is almost a century old.
The cost of the three projects together will tally in the millions, but most of that is expected to be covered by the federal government, with little or small matches from local taxpayers. For example, the cost of the intersection overhaul is estimated at $1.5 million, which is to be paid in full by the federal government. The town may still be on the hook for other costs, such as reworking the pipes beneath the intersection, which could still cost local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For the intersection, the select board worked with the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission and VTrans, hosting five community meetings during the late summer to assess where the public stands. In the fall, the board voted to continue forward with the massive project, though it’s not expected to be completed for years.
The project could also block through-traffic from Route 2 going down High Street into the village area for up to a couple of months. Thayer said it is not just businesses that would be impacted, including the Positive Pie restaurant and the Plainfield Co-op, but also that fire and emergency rescue services would be cut off from Route 2.
The complete revamping of the intersection would include lowering the roadbed, moving the stairs and railing out from the middle of the intersection, and installing a conventional stoplight rather than the blinking orange one that is there now.
Thayer said the cost to move around the pipes underneath the intersection could total two or three hundred thousand dollars, though that estimate is down from an initial estimate of over a million.
It is hoped that coordinating the construction of the intersection project with the High Street bridge project might yield some savings. The plan to redo the pedestrian walkway across the bridge received bids “way over the amount of money available,” Thayer said.
The Brook Road bridge is another project that’s been on the board’s radar for a long time. Built in the 1920s, the bridge has a sturdy foundation, but the tarmac in between would sometimes collapse during floods. The last time it fell apart was in 2015. Photos of the collapse can be seen at plainfieldvt.us.
It was decided not to apply for FEMA funds to work on the Brook Road bridge for this year, but an application is planned for 2021.
“That’s the plan, but then again you know lots of things can change between now and then,” Thayer said.
Another project addressed in 2020 was the revitalization of the old firehouse, which is currently the local historical society building, located at the intersection of Route 2 and High Street. The building needs work on its roof and back wall.
Thayer said she was skeptical the project would be started before the building was lost to the water below, but there were substantial grant funds which the society was able to secure.
Collaboration between the road crews from Plainfield and Marshfield was also discussed this year. Road crew members are sometimes being forced to take time off when the state requires them to quarantine due to the coronavirus. This is an ongoing discussion at the board’s meetings.
The focus on infrastructure and bridges is not unique to Plainfield. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Vermont’s infrastructure scores a grade of C (“mediocre: requires attention”) according to an ASCE report. The report says that the state’s bridges need work, noting that approximately five percent of bridges are “structurally deficient.”