Alley project still needs rights of way
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | August 24,2013
Another construction season is nearing its close without the Center Street Alley project happening.
“If you’d asked me last year at this time, I would’ve told you we’d be in construction by now,” Mayor Christopher Louras said Friday.
For at least a year, city officials have said the federally funded $1.5 million project is in the right-of-way process. It’s still there, said Scott Gurley, project manager for the state Agency of Transportation.
“It’s a long process to get through when you have a lot of property owners, a lot of agreements to be made and a lot of utilities to be moved,” he said.
Louras said the city had to reach arrangements with surrounding properties as well as those directly affected.
“Even though we have control of the entire footprint — if someone leans a shovel up against a wall, we have control of the dirt right up to where it abuts the wall, but we don’t have control of the wall itself,” the mayor said.
Gurley added the city had to do a new survey after discovering existing leases didn’t cover certain parts of the property.
“If we have willing property owners, we should be done in a couple months,” he said. “I can’t point the finger at any one person (as holding it up.) It’s a complicated process and it takes a while.”
Gurley said the city and state are shooting for construction next year.
“We still have not done a review of the plans yet,” he said. “That takes a while. I think next year is realistic — maybe not early spring, but next year is a possibility.”
If the project does get hung up for another year, Gurley said it will likely be from “unknowns in the right-of-way process.”
The project calls for leveling out the alley and adding green space, with picnic benches and other improvements going in over time. Sen. Patrick Leady, D-Vt., got a $974,000 appropriation to help fund the project, which appeared in the state project list for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
The remainder of the $1.5 million cost is expected to come through a private-public partnership. Louras said no city funds had been committed, but may be in the future.
Gurley said the delays pose no threat to the project’s federal funding.
“Usually, if the project’s moving forward and money’s being spent on it, they don’t pull the plug on it — at least not this soon,” he said. “If you’re running into issues relating to permitting and right-of-way, they’re not going to come looking for their money back.”
Gurley said he did not know what sort of impact the delays were having on the budget and that it was too early to say how the departure of the local project manager, recently resigned recreation superintendent EJay Bishop, would affect the progress.
Louras said he had taken over as the city’s point of contact for the time being, and that conversations over Bishop’s successor included the question of whether the project should remain on the Recreation Department’s agenda or if an outside project manager should be hired.