VHB gathers data and residents’ concerns over deteriorating culvert

Chester residents are concerned that the culvert construction detour will affect commuting and traffic. Photo by Shawntae Stillwell

CHESTER, Vt. – At a public hearing on Dec. 6, 2017, representatives from planning and engineering firm VHB gathered citizens’ concerns about culvert replacement on Popple Dungeon Road. Much of the discussion in the subsequent Select Board meeting centered around proposed bond and capital budgets.

At the spot where the south branch of the Williams River intersects Popple Dungeon Road, it flows through an aging, deteriorating culvert topped by a temporary bridge.

The current configuration is plagued with issues. The culvert lacks sufficient hydraulic capacity because it is overwhelmed by storms and is structurally problematic – it’s increasingly more football-shaped than round. Jason Keener, a project manager at VHB, enumerated these and other problems during a presentation to local residents and Select Board members. There are environmental concerns as well; Keener explained that the floor of the culvert “perches” above the river during low water, which blocks natural “organism transit.”

The trick is to find a solution that balances expense, convenience, and structural quality. During the current so-called Phase A of a four-phase project to replace the culvert, Keener and others are gathering data, listening to citizen concerns, and identifying possible alternatives.

Several residents present voiced concern about road closures and lengthy detours. The currently identified detour routes could add as much as 30 minutes to driving trips. This is tedious for drivers but also a potential risk to public safety. Select Board member Ben Whalen, who is also Chester’s assistant fire chief, expressed concern about “prolonged response time” for emergency services.

Construction is slated for 2019, which coincides with planned repaving of nearby Vermont Route 11. This could create an additional headache, as Route 11 is a key artery for proposed detour routes.

During the next phase of the project, in early 2019, VHB will present several design options for the culvert replacement.

In the Select Board meeting that followed the public hearing about the culvert, several lengthy discussions arose as the board evaluated the town’s draft capital and bond budgets.

Frank Bidwell raised concerns that approach to fleet management hasn’t been evaluated for efficiency. The town currently replaces dump trucks on a 5-year rotation and police cruisers every four years, relying on the heads of the associated departments – highway and police in this case – to make decisions.

The draft 2018 bond budget adds a proposed $250,000 bond for a compaction roller, sidewalk plow, and a pocket park on School Street.

Chester resident Meghan Currier requested that the Select Board approve a name change for the class-3 town road she lives on – Stoodley Road. Currier argued that her submitted alternative, Fern Brook Lane, evokes a more “romantic” feel. Assistant Town Clerk Julie Hance has notified other property owners on Stoodley Road of the proposed change. Select Board Chair Arne Jonynas raised questions as to the historical nature of the Stoodley name, and board members suggested placing an ad in the newspaper to inform the community of the impending change.

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