The Town of Fairlee has been awarded $100,275 from the Downtown Transportation Fund under the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development for a sidewalk and crosswalks on its main street. The fund had approximately $2.9 million available for designated downtowns and villages to support transportation-related capital improvements. Fairlee will be contributing about $25,000 for a total project cost of $125,344 (30% of which is budgeted for contingency).
The project will run from the Town of Fairlee Railroad Station and Park and Ride on Route 5 North to Bridge Street (Route 25A), which connects to Orford, NH. The grant application states that the project is part of a larger plan:
The "Main Street to Morey Fairlee Town Center Action Plan" has divided stormwater, streetscape, and pedestrian phases into discrete projects. Areas that need stormwater will have that work done first, followed by hardscape projects like walkways, crosswalks, lighting, and bump outs, and then completed with the landscaping and streetscape projects. This section was not in need of a large-scale stormwater installation so this would then be the first step in the larger project that will expand to the North and South from the Town Common.
The project will provide pedestrian connections between the Park and Ride, Fairlee Railroad Station, Fairlee seasonal Flea Market, the Fairlee Town Common, the Fairlee Town Hall and Auditorium, and the Vermont/New Hampshire border crossing. It will also act as the cross-river link of the Cross Rivendell Trail. The project will add two pedestrian crosswalks across Route 5.
Implementation will be relatively easy. Concept work has already been completed, and community involvement and outreach was tackled in Fairlee’s ongoing planning process under the Better Connections Grant, Fairlee’s Town Plan update in 2019, and ongoing Village Planning processes with Fairlee’s business community. With Requests for Qualifications and permitting scheduled to take place in 2022, construction and substantial project completion is estimated for July of 2023.
The grant application states that, “Our current efforts to attract housing development to the Village Center require a walkable street environment so that we can leverage our water system and public education excess capacities...” The sidewalk will pass in front of Jonah Richard’s “human-scale” 9-unit development at 501 Main Street.
The grant application cites community demand for pedestrian access to Fairlee’s village center. “We need a pedestrian friendly Main Street to allow residents to leave the vehicle at home and to encourage visitors to park and roam on foot.”
The Park and Ride, which supports public parking, also offers EV charging and is a Tri-Valley Transit bus stop. Fairlee is hoping to “achieve synergies that will leverage into economic development opportunities.”
What can Thetford learn from its neighbors to the north? Thetford’s Town Plan states that “Pedestrian access to services in Thetford’s villages is not optimal, particularly in the East Thetford community business district. Pedestrian amenities could include crosswalks and sidewalks, or simply better shoulders.” It is Thetford’s stated goal to provide “safe, pedestrian access to Thetford’s villages.”
Despite this, a Selectboard majority refused to apply for a grant in 2020 that would have put $30,000 towards a feasibility study for sidewalks in East Thetford, citing concerns about the Town’s poor performance in managing the Trailhead and Sidewalk projects on Thetford Hill, which were just wrapping up at the time.
Perhaps the lesson is that having a Plan is only as good as a Town’s willingness, and ability, to execute it.