Landowners concerned over Bennington Bypass design

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(Host) Some Bennington landowners want the state to rethink its design for the next leg of the Bennington Bypass.

They say the currently planned route will solve a downtown congestion problem by creating new problems on the town’s eastern border.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports:

(Keese) Work on the second, northern leg of the Bennington Bypass is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2007.

To acquire the land for the highway by eminent domain, the state must first show necessity in a court proceeding that started earlier this month.

James Harris is the project manager.

(Harris) “The state has to demonstrate to the court that the right of way that’s being purchased is for the public benefit and that the state is taking as little property as we need to be able to build the project that we need to be used for the public.”

(Keese) Harris says the first part’s easy. The new route will redirect heavy truck traffic between New York state and Vermont 9, southern Vermont’s main east-west corridor.

Right now those trucks go right through downtown Bennington’s main intersection.

Harris says the state has minimized the land it needs, by designing a compact interchange where the new road meets Route 9, east of downtown.

But residents of that neighborhood say the plan creates new problems. George Prouty, an organizer of the group, says the members are all for the bypass.

(Prouty) “But the project they are proposing is not a bypass. And it is directly impacting the east end of town. And the safety concerns that have been raised by doing that have not been addressed to our satisfaction.”

(Keese) Prouty and others say that traffic lights the state plans to install at the new interchange will create congestion at the east end of town. They worry that trucks with overheated brakes coming down Route 9 won’t be able to stop in their densely populated neighborhood.

The residents want the state to reconsider an earlier plan that would have put the interchange farther east in a less busy area. Property owners also have individual concerns which Prouty claims the state isn’t taking seriously.

(Prouty) “When we received a summons for this hearing, we called Mr. Harris’s to ask if we needed an attorney to represent us at this hearing. We were told not only did we not need an attorney, we did not even need to attend because this is simply a formality.”

(Keese) Harris, the project manager says packets were sent through the sheriff’s office to the affected landowners prior to the hearing. Harris says he wanted them to understand they were not being subpoenaed, and were not required to attend.

The residents have hired a lawyer to represent them as a group when the hearing reconvenes.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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