Welch tours, praises Segment Six project
BRANDON — Rep. Peter Welch said Thursday the town’s work on the Route 7 overhaul through its downtown serves as a model for how such projects should be done.
The Democratic congressman visited with town officials and went with them on a walking tour of the all-but-complete Segment Six project Thursday afternoon.
Segment Six is a $28 million project the town had been planning for decades before breaking ground on it in 2018. It straightened out Route 7, improved sidewalks and water infrastructure, removed above-ground wires and added parking. Most of it was funded by the federal and state governments and besides a few minor items, was completed this year.
“I’m so excited about it,” said Welch in the Town Office just before walking through downtown. “I remember coming down here right after Irene and what a mess. And then I was talking to somebody about you all down here, and I said you guys were really smart about trying to put together something that wasn’t just going to patch it up, but make it significantly better.”
In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene caused historic levels of flooding all across Vermont, with Brandon being no exception.
“This could easily have not happened, and no one would have been surprised,” said Bernie Carr, who served as the town’s public information officer for the Segment Six project. He’s also the executive director of the Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce, and owns a shop downtown.
Carr, Town Manager David Atherton and Economic Development Director Bill Moore talked with Welch about other public works projects the town has undertaken, plus major weather events since 2011.
Atherton said it was a year ago this week that giant ice blocks went sliding down a town road.
“We had a ton of ice on the Neshobe (River), up on Newton Road where we’re doing (Federal Emergency Management Agency) property buyouts, the ice came up and actually slid down the road, the river never hit the road, but the ice did,” said Atherton. “It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”
He quipped that the town’s next federally funded project should be a parking garage.
Welch went with the group down the street, discussing various businesses in operation and ones that expect to open. Carr and Moore said economic development didn’t stop during the construction phase, which naturally created disruption to foot and vehicle traffic. Officials have said in the past that promotions were run to encourage downtown shopping.
Before leaving, Welch stopped at the Red Clover Ale Co., which opened during the Segment Six work, and sampled some of the beer on tap.
Before coming to Brandon, Welch had been in Middlebury touring a rail-tunnel project. He said he’s seen many large public works projects that naturally come with disruption, and feels communication is key to making them work.
“This was an extraordinarily ambitious, long overdue, very necessary project, but you can’t do it without immense disruption of daily life. And it takes an act of faith on the part of the leadership, and on the part of the downtown community to get through it to the other side,” he said. “They were efficient, they had good communication with the residents and with the businesses to ensure cooperation, it’s now done and they’re reaping the benefits that will be here for generations. So yes, enormous disruption, immense and long-term benefit.”
He said Brandon will be the kind of place young people want to live and work, and that attracting such people is the key to any downtown’s revitalization.