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Article Title: City Council Decision-making -- Pioneer Street Bridge Process FlawedEdition: February 2001
Author: Patricia Blouin
This letter is in reply to City Manager Bill Fraser's City Page article in the January Montpelier Bridge. In this article he describes his view of the decision-making process that led to the selection of a concrete and steel span for the Winooski River at Barre and Pioneer Streets. I think important details and considerations were omitted from Mr. Fraser's synopsis.
I was at the city council meeting of July 12, 1995 when the council at approximately 11:30 at night voted for one of the four bridge designs which had been submitted by Holden Engineering at the previous meeting. Two of the plans submitted were for concrete and steel spans. Two were for restoration of the metal truss; one of the latter plans included modification of the bridge approach on the Barre Street side to facilitate the managing of the present abrupt curve.
I had attended the council meeting two weeks earlier when the plans for the four options were first submitted. Many people spoke that night including myself as to why we thought it important for the future of Montpelier to restore and retain the historic metal truss known as the Pioneer Street Bridge. The engineering firm provided figures showing restoration of the historic bridge to be the most economical option available to the city and the city council took a preliminary (non-binding) vote to reconstruct the Pioneer Street Bridge where it stands. (At this time no one knew the State would be changing its rulebook so that historic trusses would be funded entirely by the A.O.T. No one knew the State would eventually offer towns funding for maintenance costs also.)
At the following meeting, that of July 12, 1995 the engineering firm came back into the city council with revised figures for the truss bridge, saying they'd forgotten to include certain costs, and these would make restoring the truss bridge more expensive than building a new bridge. The council accepted this revised report that very night and voted in favor of the concrete and steel alternative. I believe they voted in haste and weariness. (Further, I believe it is not fair to even expect clear-headed decisions from a council that has been working for several hours and must remain until 11 or 12 at night.)
I was at the council meeting held immediately after the second citywide vote at which citizens of Montpelier again expressed their desire -- via the ballot and the voting box -- for restoration of the Pioneer Street Bridge.. At that time Councilman Richard Brock stated he was having a hard time voting for the new concrete and steel span because the citizens of Montpelier had now voted twice to restore and retain in place the historic metal truss. The mayor interrupted the council deliberations on the bridge at that time saying the people had been confused by the wording on the ballot and that the council was to vote for the new bridge. Richard Brock said no more about his feelings about this issue and the council voted to go ahead with plans for the concrete and steel span.
I was at the historic meeting of the Montpelier City Council held after the November elections when the people of Montpelier voted for the third time to restore and retain in place the Pioneer Street Bridge. Richard Brock again expressed concern again about the handling of this issue because the citizens had now voted three times in favor of the metal truss bridge. He added that, however, since the plans for the concrete and steel span had progressed quite far, he did not feel he could vote in such a way as to hold things up. Nancy Sherman then put before the council a motion which suggested a compromise solution -- the construction of an entirely new metal truss bridge. The council refused to second this motion. It voted instead to continue with a concrete and steel span.
The council has appointed committees to study other projects which have the potential to significantly change the character of a neighborhood and I believe if they appointed a committee to study this issue they would have found the people of Montpelier are not at all confused about what this new bridge, elevated road, exit ramps, higher speeds, and increased traffic would mean to the Barre Street neighborhood and ultimately to Montpelier. I believe their lack of confusion is why they voted against the concrete and steel span. I believe they foresaw that a street with a senior center, schools, a recreational facility for youngsters, many historic residences, and several family-owned small businesses is not the place for a huge new highway-type road and bridge.
I also believe the council has not given adequate study to the recommendations of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources which from the very beginning in 1995 stated in writing a preference for the restoration of the metal truss bridge -- because the Winooski River and the animals that live there or visit would be less adversely affected by the suspension type (metal truss) bridge. I think it important for our city council to take these things into consideration.
I believe it is negligent if they do not for we now know how severely we with our cars and trucks and innumerable types of gasoline-run vehicles are impacting the natural world. We now know what our disregard may mean to the survival of all species. We must set our sights higher than a concrete and steel span which destroys much of what we value -- history, friendly neighborhoods, picturesque beauty, a village-type atmosphere in our city. Smallness. Yes, we value smallness. We in Vermont usually set a good example for the rest of the country and we need to not let ourselves down this way. We must work to create a truly progressive paradigm.
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