From left, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) walks up Center Street in Brandon with Town Manager Dave Atherton, Brandon Economic Development Officer Bill Moore and Public Information Officer Bernie Carr during a tour of the almost-completed Segment 6 reconstruction project last week.
Photo by Lee Kahrs
By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON – U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) couldn’t contain his enthusiasm when he visited downtown Brandon to tour the Segment 6 upgrade of Route 7 this past Thursday.
“I am so excited to be here,” Welch said in the town offices before the tour kicked off.
“It took some vision, confidence and a leap of faith, and to be able to help in some small way with the funding was very rewarding, so I just want to say thank you for letting me enjoy a tour.”
The two-year, $28 million Segment 6 project was mostly complete as of last fall. It involved repaving, improved water and sewer line infrastructure, buried utility lines, renovated sidewalks and curb, and two new traffic lights and reconfigured parking from Marble Street north to the Jiffy Mart. Residents, motorists and business owners endured two years of dust, traffic delays and inconvenience as the project progressed. A townwide celebration is planned for May.
Federal and state funding paid for the project with a 5% local match. The Vermont Congressional delegation of Welch and Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders helped to secure the federal funding necessary get Segment 6 done.
Accompanying Welch was Town Manager Dave Atherton, Economic Development Director Bill Moore, and former Segment 6 Public Information Officer Bernie Carr.
Welch visited Brandon as the U.S. Senate trial on President Donald Trump’s impeachment was getting underway. He made several comments contrasting the trial in D.C. and the progress observable on the ground in Brandon.
“I’m not used to seeing something useful happen, so to come down here and see something working out, that’s pretty good,” he said, joking. “But see, you guys are hung up on working together. We don’t make that mistake in Washington.”
Heading out into town, Welch stopped first to see the stormwater culvert below Neshobe Falls. Atherton explained how the culvert saved the downtown from flooding just 40 days after it was completed in 2016. The culvert was put in to prevent floods like the one that came with Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 devastating downtown.
“I remember coming down here right after Irene and what a mess,” Welch said. “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.”
As they made their way up Center Street, Welch stopped and chatted with Blue Moon Clothing and Gifts and Indu business owner Ellen Walter, asking about her Segment 6 experience.
“It was not fun from a construction standpoint, but we got through it,” Walter said. “What we’ve done can only help.”
Continuing up Center Street and then to Park Street, Atherton pointed out the new parking area and the traffic lights across Central Park. He reiterated the need to work together in order to accomplish goals.
“The key always is the willingness to cooperate,” Welch said. “You can’t do it until that moment arrives where people just decide, ‘Hey, let’s work together and get this done.’ In all seriousness, that’s what’s really tough for us in D.C. You get so much more done when you decide it needs to be done, and you have an attitude of solving the problems and resolving the differences as opposed to using the differences and the problems as an excuse to keep fighting.”
Moore replied that in a small town, there is no other way to get things done.
“In a town with 4,000 people, you know everybody, so Republican and Democrat, you have to work together to do anything, whether it’s coaching a basketball team or doing a $30 million project, you have to work together,” Moore said. “And I think when you start dealing with the scale of the entire country, it starts to break down and people lose that, that idea that we’re all neighbors and that we all have one common goal to make this a better place to be.”
Welch also asked what else could be done to help Brandon forward. Moore suggested making the permitting process easier to navigate, particularly for business owners.
Heading back toward the town offices, the group also stopped in at Red Clover Ale Co. and Welch sampled two different brews courtesy of co-owner Riker Wikoff.
The congressman said he is seeing local leadership accomplish ambitious projects all over the state, and Brandon is a model among them.
“It’s important for the taxpayers to see this,” Welch said. “What I’m seeing is the local leadership is pulling together to revitalize their communities, but it’s that local leadership that’s so essential. They define a problem and cooperate on a solution, and oftentimes our towns get riddled with factional politics and when that happens, it stalls things for everyone. But here, where they faced an extraordinarily big challenge and revitalization project that would disrupt downtown and traffic for a very long time, it requires an immense leap of faith by the voters.”
As Welch said goodbye to town officials, he was clearly pleased with the tour and Brandon’s progress.
“This is great,” he said, shaking Moore’s hand. “This is really cool, thanks.”
“Well, thanks for securing the funding for it,” Moore replied.
“Well, like I say, every once in a while we get to do something useful,” the congressman said.