Brandon voters to decide on Route 7 upgrades

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(Host) This year on Town Meeting Day, Brandon voters will decide whether to approve a nearly $3 million bond to pay for upgrades to Route 7.

Local officials call it a good investment for the town.

But critics say the proposed changes to Route 7 fall short and they worry that two years of construction will hurt downtown businesses.

VPR’s Nina Keck has more.

(Keck) Louis Pattis walks out the front door of the Brandon Inn – a local landmark he owns that stands across from the town green on busy Route 7.

(Sound of a door opens to outside)

(Pattis) “The trucks are certainly an issue here and big noise with the heavy trucks. And it will only increase it won’t go down. Over the years they say the traffic volume will increase on Route 7 and it will be a problem whatever we do here.”

(Keck) Pattis says plans to shift Route 7 to the far side of the town green would help the situation. He says he’ll vote yes on the bond since it’ll provide the necessary local funding for the project.

(Pattis) “For us it’s clear cut. We always had problems operating this business with the noise right outside the inn and what would you want but to move the traffic away from your business if it hurts your business.”

(Keck) Town Manger Keith Arlund says money raised by the $2.75 million bond will actually be used in three different ways. He says $750,000 will cover Brandon’s portion of the Route 7 upgrades. Arlund says the town’s lucky and only has to pay for 5% of the project. Usually, he says the local portion is 10%. State and federal funding will cover the rest. Arlund says $225,000 will be used to pay off a highway project completed last year. The rest, he says will be used like an advance – to get a jump start on long overdue infrastructure repairs.

(Arlund) “With the rising costs of petroleum products – that affects everything we do, everything we buy, especially asphalt paving. So the idea is if we can advance some other infrastructure work on town highways, sidewalks, bridges, we can get ahead of that inflationary curve and get more value for our dollar, than wait seven, eight, nine years to do one road at a time.”

(Keck) But Brian Fillieo a long time Brandon resident and former Selectmen, says he’ll vote no on the bond. He says that while the infrastructure repairs make good financial sense, he doesn’t like the proposed changes to Route 7. He says local leaders were wrong to combine the projects in a single bond vote.

(Fillieo) “I would have let the public vote on two separate bonds. Because the select board was split on supporting the current design of Route 7 and I think the town is split on it, so they face losing the whole two million dollar bond.”

(Keck) Fillieo says moving Route 7 and adding two stoplights will ruin the village’s historic charm as well as cut into the town green. He says a proposal to create a roundabout was too quickly dismissed by local officials. He and others in town also worry about the effects of prolonged construction on downtown businesses. But Brandon Inn owner Louis Pattis says the new design will work well. And while merchants may be temporarily inconvenienced, he believes the town’s future’s at stake.

(Pattis) “My concern is for the long run. We have to look down the road. It’s not for the short run. The solutions will hopefully be so much better than what we have right now.”

(Keck) Town Manager Keith Arlund says if the bond goes through and all permits are approved, construction on route seven could begin in 2008. Local infrastructure repairs would begin even sooner. If the bond is voted down, he says Route 7 upgrades would likely be put on hold until local funding can be found. He says the town might also have to pay back state money that’s already been invested in the project.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Brandon.

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