BRANDON – Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., pledged to take the first shovelfuls of dirt from a long-awaited $20 million road improvement project in downtown Brandon back with him to the nation’s capital to prove to colleagues what can happen when people work together.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott told the congressman he agreed with the sentiment, but suggested that those in Washington, D.C., might already have more than enough of what Welch intended to bring them.
“I will dispute the need for dirt in Washington,” the governor said. “I think we have enough mud slinging going on down there and we don’t need anymore.”
Scott, Welch and slew of other local, state and federal officials gathered late Monday morning in the park in the center of Brandon for the official groundbreaking ceremony of a U.S. Route 7 reconstruction project that is set to run 30 months, stretching over three construction seasons.
Officials with several companies involved in the project, including DuBois & King Inc. and Casella Construction, also took part in Monday’s event.
Signs in town alerting the public to the work ahead for the improvement project contain the tagline, “Even Better Brandon.”
The project, known as Segment 6, is part of series of upgrades over the years between Pittsford and Brandon on Route 7, which runs north-south through western Vermont.
Segment 6 targets a roughly 1.3-mile section mostly in Brandon’s village core. The work includes creating a new traffic pattern, adding two traffic signals, improving the streetscape and parking, upgrading the stormwater system and installing decorative streetlights, according to officials.
“It’s the whole thing,” Brandon Town Manager David Atherton said of the infrastructure work associated with the project. “There’s a lot going on with this project.”
Federal funds cover most of the construction cost, he said, with the state kicking in money as well. The town is contributing 5 percent of the project’s cost, the town manager added.
Route 7 will remain open to traffic throughout the project.
“We can’t close Route 7 because it’s a federal highway connector, so we have to maintain at least one lane of traffic,” Atherton said. “It’s going to be done in segments so we won’t be tearing it up from end to end.”
The project has been in the works for some two decades.
Scott, a former state senator from Washington County, and Welch, who served as a state senator from Windsor County, recalled hearing of the project during their days as state lawmakers.
State Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, said it was her support of the upgrades to Route 7 through Pittsford and Brandon that got her to run for the Legislature 20 years ago. She recalled serving on the Pittsford Selectboard at the time the upgrades were first conceived.
She added she cut a vacation short in Virginia and made sure she made it back to Brandon in time for the groundbreaking Monday.
“I had to actually see it,” she said of work beginning on the latest segment of the project. “I’ll be anxious to see when it’s done.”
Vermont Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn spoke of the complicated nature of a downtown road construction project of this size.
“It required 150 pieces of property to be acquired,” he said of work to resolve right-of-way issues. “That’s immense when you think of about that. Each and everyone of those transactions can be very complicated and take a lot of time.”
Welch aso talked how challenging it can be getting such a large road construction project to the point of a groundbreaking and through to completion.
“This was complicated, this was difficult, and there’s more ahead,” he said. “It’s about a belief in the future, it’s about a belief in ourselves, and it’s about the ability to know that we can accomplish the most when we can work with other people.”
And, before he put his shovel in the ground, he added, “I can’t wait to bring some good Brandon dirt back to Washington, D.C.”