Regional bike path in line for significant grant
BARRE — Plans to construct a short stretch of a regional bike path in Barre have received a $250,000 shot in the arm even as city officials are attempting to iron out a railroad-related wrinkle involving another portion of the proposed path.
City Manager Steve Mackenzie said Wednesday the city is in line to receive $250,000 through a highly competitive federal grant program that is administered by the state Agency of Transportation. Though the city requested $300,000, Mackenzie said the agency capped awards at $250,000 due to the volume of requests this year.
“It’s great news,” Mackenzie said, referring to a grant that will help finance the construction of one leg of a nearly “shovel-ready” segment of bike path that will eventually run from the Vermont Granite Museum on Jones Brothers Way to Granite Street.
Except for wrapping up right of way work and preparing bid-ready designs, the plans for that segment of the path are complete, according to Mackenzie, who said the grant would help finance the middle portion of that segment, which runs along Smith Street between Berlin and Blackwell streets.
The city has estimated the cost of that portion of the path at $477,500, and Mackenzie credited the generosity of the late Barre businessman Charlie Semprebon for putting the city in a position to leverage the federal grant.
An avid cyclist who died in 2009, Semprebon left $500,000 apiece to Barre and Barre Town to advance plans for a bike path that would link the two communities and more than $2.6 million to the city for unspecified civic improvements. A significant portion of Semprebon’s primary bequest — $1.1 million — has been designated for the bike path.
“I think having the local share available and committed... and plans that are substantially complete made a big difference,” Mackenzie said.
The city’s application was further bolstered by a City Council decision to earmark $10,000 per year for future maintenance of the path. That money will come from a life annuity Semprebon created that is expected to generate roughly $50,000 annually in revenue for the city in perpetuity.
“There’s no question having the money available to complete and maintain the project strengthened our application,” Mackenzie said.
Members of the city’s bike path committee have been eager to complete at least a portion of the path Semprebon envisioned. Mackenzie said the 1,450-foot section that runs along Smith Street made the most sense given issues on both ends of the so-called museum segment.
Costs associated with two river crossings needed to bring the path from the museum property to Berlin Street prompted the committee to hold off on that work at this time, and Mackenzie said an unresolved issue involving proposed use of the railroad right of way in the vicinity of Granite Street belatedly surfaced as a hurdle.
Mackenzie said he has had conversations with representatives of the Washington County Railroad and the state transportation agency in hopes of overcoming the obstacle.
“This is no small conundrum,” he said, noting that the problem, as he understands it, involves concern that there isn’t ample room for trucks to load trains with granite being hauled out of state.
Mackenzie said he has reached out to the railroad, the state and a neighboring property owner in hopes of identifying a mutually acceptable solution before the city is ready to build that leg of the bike path.
The grand plan, according to Mackenzie, is to eventually construct a multi-use path all the way from one end of the city to the other — creating Barre’s share of a central Vermont path that, on paper at least, runs from Montpelier through Berlin and Barre and into Barre Town.
Semprebon’s generosity, coupled with plans to incorporate a bike path in the redevelopment of Merchants Row and a 5,500-foot segment of path that already runs from Fairview Street out to South Barre, have put the city in a unique position to complete its portion of the path.
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